My grown son calls and has an issue with his father.
One of my coaches tells me they are struggling with one of our clients.
An employee of a client team schedules a Zoom session to complain about a co-worker or boss.
A colleague casually reports that a mutual friend has hurt their feelings.
Do these things happen to you? They certainly happen to me! What do they have in common? They each involve a person asking someone else to solve their issue/ challenge/problem. And for leaders, this is a crossroads conversation.
As a leader, your response will either be to solve, to supervise, or to coach. The first two options stunt the person’s growth while the third option strengthens and empowers them. As a leader, personally and professionally, when I got good at coaching, my life got a lot easier and better as did the lives and outcomes of those I desired to help.
- Solving people’s problems is disempowering. It essentially communicates that we don’t believe they can or will do it themselves. For many managers (and parents, for that matter), this is what they have been taught to believe is their responsibility. But, I believe our top priority is to build and coach for independence, maturity, and growth. Our #1 job is to build superstar leaders at every level of our business, family, industry, and community. And, asking or demanding that someone else solve our problem is just as problematic. Just last week, I had a team member in a client office say to me, “It’s not my job to fix this issue with my co-worker. That’s what my manager gets paid the big bucks to do!” This communicates that they don’t believe they can do this, and/or they just don’t want to make the effort. They would much rather delegate that work to YOU.
- Supervising is similar to solving but takes the shape of reactively noticing when someone does something wrong and then correcting them by giving them the correct answer. Again, while this might fix the problem in the short-term, it does nothing to build the problem-solving skills of the person for the future. Supervising is an antiquated “boomer” managerial approach (I can say that because I AM a boomer!). Coaching is what is required to inspire, grow, and advance the current generations of employees.
- Coaching is the best option for not only helping the person to find their answers but to build their confidence and skills. Coaching assumes that the person is capable of locating the resources, creating the solutions, and finding the answers themselves. It also allows for the notion that others may never have experienced true coaching from a manager, parent, or colleague and therefore, understandably, developed the belief that they can’t or even shouldn’t attempt to solve this on their own. The side benefit to coaching is that ultimately it frees up our time as managers, leaders, and parents because as our people strengthen their problem-solving skills, they stop coming to us for their answers.
This skill of coaching has not come easily to me. I like helping people, and in the past I’ve even loved saving people. But over time I’ve learned that it’s actually more helpful if I coach them to solve their issues on their own.
If you’d like to do more coaching and less ‘saving’, here are a few tips:
- Listen well. Ask clarifying questions without giving advice. Pay attention to statements that reveal their limiting beliefs as well as clues to what they really care about such as respect, fairness, etc.
- Affirm their abilities. Let them know you believe in them. Use phrases like “I believe in you,” “I know you’ll find a way…”, or “I trust you’re going to figure this out.”
- Prompt their solution. Ask them what their plan is to solve it. What do they plan to do about it? What do you think your next step might/could be? If they say that they don’t know what to do, ask what they have tried before or considered. What resources do they have or need? Where might they find those? Who do they know that has been successful with this person or this issue? In other words, lead with questions to help them find their own answers.
- Leave them with confidence. Instead of giving too much feedback on their solutions, try just offering to be an accountability partner by saying, “I’d love to know how that idea works out for you. Please circle back with me as I’ll be anxious to know how well it went.” By doing this, you let them know that you are happy to be a sounding board but fully expect that they will find a solution or a resource to help.
By solving people’s problems, we are crippling them for the future. Stop spoon-feeding your employees, teammates, friends, and children. Instead, remind them there is a whole world of ideas, resources, and successful people from which to draw answers and inspiration. The world is their oyster, and they are more capable than they think. Empowering them through coaching is the most loving thing you could ever do for them and the biggest gift of all.
If you’d like help as a leader or team member to become a better “coach,” consider our brand-new Courageous Conversations Video Training Course and/or join our community of likeminded professionals in our Courageous Leadership Pride.
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do. Leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
~ Steve Jobs