Have you ever felt like you wanted your team members to be more proactive? Most leaders genuinely want to empower their teams. We know it is not effective or scale-able to have one person doing all the thinking for the group.
Yet when we try to encourage our team members to take ownership and solve problems, often we unwittingly sabotage ourselves with Solutions in Disguise.
Picture this: You, the leader, are encouraging your staff member to consider how they might approach a problem. Trying to be helpful, you offer, "Do you think you should...X?"
That is not empowering, that is advocating for your solution!
If your team members have been unwittingly conditioned to figure out the approach you want them to take, they may hesitate to suggest their own ideas until after they get an insight into what they think you want them to do. Meanwhile, you are getting frustrated that they don't seem to take initiative.
Would you like some ideas on how other leaders have overcome this challenge?
If you really want your staff to do more of their own thinking, here is an approach to help you stay away from Solutions in Disguise.
- Get clear on the outcomes. Make sure you and your team member are on the same page for what you are trying to accomplish, and what to avoid.
- When your staff comes to you with an idea to solve a problem, evaluate the risk of letting them decide how to handle it. In many cases, if they don't approach it the same way you would there is minimal risk, even if their solution is a little less efficient or effective than yours. Re-confirm your agreement on the outcomes and what needs to be avoided and encourage them to give it a try.
- When someone comes to you without a proposed approach, resist the urge to be the hero by solving the problem for them. Use the 5-step problem solving process with your staff member.
- Be empathetic. "Wow, that sound like a tough situation. How are you doing?"
- Hand the problem back to them. "What do you think you are going to do about that?"
(Listen to their ideas.)
- Ask for permission before offering any suggestions. "Would you like to hear ideas for how others have approached [or might approach] this type of problem?"
- If they would like ideas, offer some possibilities for them to consider. "Some people do X. How do you think that would work for you?"
(Let them talk about how that idea would work or not, or how they could make it better. You can give them a couple of ideas for approaches, letting them evaluate each one.)
- Encourage them to choose. "Sounds like you have some good ideas. Let me know how it turns out."
How do you think this approach would work for you?
If you have been unwittingly offering Solutions in Disguise, you are not alone. I have to watch myself in this area, and it often comes up with my clients during coaching discussions.
Empowering a team takes more time up front than just sharing hard-earned experience, yet in the longer run, it will take much less effort once your staff is doing more of the thinking. Best of luck - let me know how it works for you.
I learned about "Don't you think you should" through coaching training with Blue Mesa Group. Yes, I was the one who thought I was asking a question... that was really a Solution in Disguise! The 5-step problem solving process is adapted from Jim and Charles Fey, Parenting the Love and Logic Way. It is a great framework that is effective with families and at work.