Guest post by bestselling author and leadership expert Jack Zenger
Based on results obtained from more than 50,000 leaders, developing subordinates is consistently one of the lower scoring leadership behaviors. This is true in every industry and on every continent weve studied. Some leaders contend that they just dont have the time for coaching but what many dont realize is that a few small and seemingly simple interactions can make a huge difference for employee growth.
One of the most frequently occurring interactions between bosses and subordinates is the process of inquiry therefore a leaders approach to answering questions can greatly impact a subordinates success. Lets take a look at a few examples.
A subordinate drops by your office. She asks, What do you think we should do about getting the technical manual written for our new product? Should we outsource it or try to find someone inside to do it? Do you immediately provide her with the answer? After all, you have faced this decision countless times and therefore have a strong opinion about the best thing to do. For many leaders, providing answers to questions is what they think theyre expected to do. Isnt that why they are paid more than others?
If I could change one common behavior of nearly all executives it would be to have them stop answering such questions from subordinates. Why? First, by not instantly answering questions from subordinates leaders seize an opportunity for the subordinates development.
Think of instead replying with: What do you think? Or, Youre closer to this than I am, what have you considered? This takes you down an entirely different road and produces quite different outcomes. Having them analyze the problem and develop alternative solutions is obviously far more developmental than simply handing them a solution. Should you have a different view, this might be the time to explain your thought processes and to recap your experience. But these ideas are received best after youve first heard their opinion. Unless this is a monumental, you bet the company decision, it may be wise to have them choose the solution they think best. The most important learning involves the opportunity to make mistakes.
The second benefit from asking a question rather than giving an answer is that it transforms the relationship. There is no better way to evolve a teacher-student or parent-child relationship to one of greater equality. The process of asking What do you think? is a powerful message of respect, which is at the heart of every positive, long-term relationship.
Finally, this elevates the subordinates confidence. Organizations need people to take initiative and to believe in their own judgment. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, frequently noted the importance of driving self-confidence deep into the organization. How better to do that than simply asking, What do you think?