Having the answer is never helpful

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

Leadership myth #132: You must have all the answers.

That’s how you got to the C-suite, to a certain extent. By knowing what to do and how to get there.

But at the upper echelons of any organization, your role changes. From technician and tactician to strategist and guide.

YOU are no longer responsible for the deliverable, but for inspiring and supporting your people to deliver.

This doesn’t mean that the goal disappears, or is unimportant; it just means that your approach to achieving it has changed.

I’ve said it before, AND here it is again. As a leader, your people ARE your deliverable.

Which is why, if you want better results from your team, coming into any conversation—whether boosting the results of a recent success, or plunging headfirst into an obstacle or conflict—thinking you have the answer as to next steps is NOT actually helpful.

(Even if you think you DO have the answer.)

So what’s your job? Guiding your people to reach answers, devise solutions, and identify opportunities. Themselves.

Susan is a perfect example. She came into a recent session with one of our coaches, anxious that her team’s progress had ground to a halt on an important project.

Milestones were continuing to be missed despite multiple meetings. Susan was at a loss as to how to improve her people’s performance.

When her coach probed to learn exactly how the conversations with her team were playing out, it quickly became clear that there was little dialogue happening. Susan was communicating the goal and what needed to happen next repeatedly… but telling her people what to do was going nowhere, FAST.  

It was time to try something different. It was time for Susan to leave her “answers” at the door.

And how does one do that, you ask? By being a better coach.

Similar to how Susan receives nonjudgmental support, a respected sounding board, and trusted advice through MettaWorks, her people need to be able to get those things from her.

(It’s not exactly the same, of course; the power dynamic is different. The leader as coach is STILL the one in charge. This is not about giving your people voting rights; this is about helping them think things through themselves and getting their input.)

Letting your people know that they’re safe, appreciated, and valued paves the way to productive conversations that yield results.

Easy, right? Ha.

For many leaders, it feels easier and simpler to just tell people what to do. (And often, their people think that this is what they want, too.)

That is, if it’s easier and simpler to become the highest-paid bottleneck in the company, as nothing moves forward without your explicit direction.

Or your direction doesn’t give solve for the roadblocks that are preventing progress, as was the case with Susan. (Oh right, that.)

So, how do you do this? First, make your people feel seen and heard.

Before you dive into the “meat” of the conversation, your people must feel comfortable, and at ease—and as if you genuinely give a damn about what they have to say. This is the purpose of starting the conversation with some small talk. (I know; it feels like a waste of your time. It’s not.)

This step establishes the required rapport. Make a few innocuous inquiries about weekend plans, recent events, common interests… Ask them how they are or what’s new and mean it. Be sincere.

Next, ask open-ended questions.

The formula is:

Goal statement → open-ended questions → restate goal.

Here’s some language Susan’s coach suggested to her:

“I know the deadline for this project is X, so let’s talk about what you think is going well.”

Then: “What worries you?”

“What do you think is getting in the way of us meeting this deliverable?”

“How can I support you to help meet the deadline?”

It’s important that your people provide the answers. If you’ve hired wisely, they’re smarter and more practiced in some areas than you are – as they should be. They bring different perspectives to the table—leading to ideas and solutions that would never occur to you in isolation. And they know what’s really going on, at a boots-on-the-ground level.

Don’t assume you’re the expert in the room. Your people are the experts. Your expertise is now to help them find the answers themselves.

When Susan returned with these coaching techniques to her team, the results were game changing. Her team felt that she was a changed person. And their performance dramatically improved.

If Susan’s situation rings eerily familiar, let’s talk. Having a coach by your side can make the difference between staying stuck or turning around your team’s performance, for good. Schedule a complimentary discovery call to learn more, today.

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Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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