One day when my youngest was about eight, she came running down the stairs and exclaimed, “Mom! I just remembered that I forgot to tell you I need gold tights for my dance recital on Saturday!” As you might guess, it was Wednesday night.
Now I admit there was a time when I would have immediately sprung into action mode, put down the book I was reading, and frantically raced around town trying to find gold tights. There would’ve been grumblings about why she waited so long to tell me. Maybe even a frustrated email to the dance teacher questioning why she didn’t let me know about the need for tights instead of relying on my eight-year old to tell me.
However, thankfully, taking a coach approach had become my default by this point. So instead of flying into fix it mode, I glanced up from my book, looked my daughter in the eye and said, “Oh gosh, that sounds like quite a dilemma. What are you going to do?” And then I took a sip of my coffee.
She asked, “Do you have gold tights?”
“Oh honey, I’m sorry. I don’t. What else could you try?”
She started thinking. “Lucy has gold tights. I can ask her!” You’d have thought she just won the lottery with the enthusiasm in her voice.
I turned back to my book while I heard my daughter FaceTiming with Lucy. Twenty minutes later, she was back at my side with her iPad. “Amazon Prime! They can be here in two days. Can we order them?”
You bet we can. Two minutes later I was back to my reading and coffee with no more grumblings or risk of sending emails I’d later regret.
Everyone always needs gold tights
When I worked in Senator Kohl’s office, my employees would often come to me with problems. I thought my role as manager was to solve them. You have a question? I’ll tell you what to do and welcome you back when you get stuck again.
Truth be told, it worked. We were successful in getting a lot of work done, and our constituents were happy.
The problem? I was exhausted. I was working twelve hour days and then taking work home. But I thought this is what I signed up for when I took the job as the boss.
I was wrong.
Not only was I working myself into burnout, I was limiting the development of the team. I hired talented people, but they weren’t working nearly to their full potential. I was just telling them what to do. I wasn’t asking them to think.
Give people the chance to find their own gold tights
When it comes to day-to-day operations, there are two common management approaches I see in the managers and leaders I coach.
The first is autocratic. This is the approach that I used for a while in Senator Kohl’s office. If I had used this approach with my daughter, I would have told her what to do or just done it myself.
The other approach is laissez-faire. This is much more hands off. People are clear (or not) on what needs to happen, and they are left alone to do their job. With my daughter, this would have been simply saying, “Figure it out.”
But those aren’t the only two options. In the middle is the coach approach. This is where you partner with the person who has a problem by asking questions so they can work through the issue and find the best solution.
If you know the answer to their question, it’s certainly easier and quicker to just tell them what to do. But the result is having a revolving door at your office waiting for the next thing you tell them to do. Furthermore, when it doesn’t work they get to be the victim and blame you.
If you don’t know the answer, then the benefits are even greater. Not only does it give your employee the chance to work the problem, but it keeps the task where it belongs. With them!
Find your coach approach moments
The great thing about taking a coach approach is that you don’t need to change your entire style to get started.
In a recent Social Distance Coaching session, a manager shared her frustrations that one of her direct reports, who has a lighter workload recently due to COVID-19, has been asking her on a regular basis what she should do next.
During the coaching session, the manager had the awareness that instead of working so hard, she could have the employee figure it out by simply asking, “What do you think you could work on this week?” It’s very likely the employee has some ideas and just needs the ok from her manager.
So the next time somebody comes to you looking for an answer, try asking a question instead. The results just might surprise you.
And it might give you some more time with your coffee.