I was working with a leader whose team was struggling. They were frustrated, felt like their leader did not care, and were dealing with the same problems over and over.
I suggested that the next time a team member addressed one of these issues he ask a simple question: “How can I help?”
He immediately responded, “No way! I’m already crazy busy, there’s no way I can do their work for them.”
His answer revealed a common misconception about what it means for leaders to help their team.
Easy, Not Effective
Many new managers, when faced with a struggling team member, will jump in and solve the problem for them, do the work for them, and do their thinking for them.
But it’s not helpful.
Apart from some basic skill training, doing work, thinking, or problem-solving for the other person isn’t helpful because:
- You don’t have time for it.
- The other person didn’t learn how to do it themselves.
- You’ve now taught them that you will do those things for them.
We do it because it feels like we’re helping (even though we’re not, really) and because it’s easy.
Just diving in and doing something we already know how to do feels good…maybe even pumps up the ego – hey, look at how easy this is for me!
A Better Way
I regularly share my belief that effective leaders serve their teams, but how you help them makes a huge difference.
You team does need you and there are three significant ways you can truly help your team:
1) Remove obstacles.
What’s in the way? Where is their unnecessary red tape? Who isn’t returning a phone call and needs it bumped up their priority list?
You are often in a position to help remove unnecessary obstacles to your team’s effectiveness. When you have motivated team members who are trying to make a difference, getting needless frustrations out of their way can make you a candidate for manager of the year.
2) Get them the resources they need.
One time I wrapped up a conversation with an energetic high-performing team member by asking, “How can I help?”
She replied, “Well, my computer is slow.”
I had her show me and my heart sank. It wasn’t slow…it was glacial.
A hand-crank printing press might have been faster.
There are two types of resources your team needs:
- equipment – the right tools for the job
- training – the skills and knowledge to do it
Regularly monitor your team to make sure they have the tools and training they need to be effective. You can’t do this once and then forget about it. Tools wear out. New challenges require new skills.
Is your team equipped to be effective?
3) Help them think.
I spent too many leadership years giving people answers to their questions or solving problems for them.
It felt good to be needed and it was easy…but it was NOT helpful.
One of your most important leadership coaching tasks is to help your team members learn how to think about their challenges.
You do this by asking good questions. Here are a few examples:
- What are you trying to do?
- What do you think will get you there?
- What are the criteria for a successful solution?
- What are the “nice to haves”?
- What alternatives have you considered?
- What other alternatives might there be?
- (And when they say, “I don’t know”) – What would you think if you did know? (A powerful question from a former colleague.)
- If they’re really stuck: Have you considered x or y or z? (Still not giving the answer, but providing defined options to think about.)
You get the idea.
By using questions like these, you help your team (and yourself) in a couple ways:
First, the team member comes up with their own solution. One of the first leadership lessons I ever learned was, “People don’t argue with their own data.”
We tend to reject things we don’t think for ourselves. Save yourself time and get greater commitment by helping team members think their way to their own solution.
Also, over time, team members will start to ask these questions of themselves. One of my favorite conversations was with a team member who said, “I had a problem and so I started asking myself…what questions would David ask me…and I figured it out!”
The benefits are huge – your team member increased their capacity, you spend less time problem solving, and now you have a team member that can help others learn the same thing.
As a leader, you’re often in a unique position to clear roadblocks, provide resources and training for a motivated team, and help them build their problem-sovling skills.
When you do, your team is more effective, you have more time for the work requiring your focus, and your team can begin building leaders.
This is the help your team needs and that you are uniquely positioned to provide.
But you won’t know if you don’t ask!
How do you remove obstacles, provide resources, and help your team to think well?
If you know someone this would help, please share it, like it, repost it, or send it on!
David M. Dye
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(Photo by Sashamd)
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David is President of Trailblaze, Inc and shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing. He enjoys partnering with people to change the world and helping others discover and realize their own potential.