How to Help Employees Think for Themselves

You have to be a good problem-solver when you run a business. But it’s also important to help the people around you learn this skill so you don’t have to do the thinking for them. Help employees solve problems on their own and get the monkey off your back with this solution.

When you’re in a leadership role, whether as a business owner, a parent, or as president of a volunteer organization, one of your responsibilities is to help the people in your charge learn to think better. You want them to come up with their own ideas or solve their own problems rather than having them come to you and expecting you to provide them with all the answers. Otherwise, you foster dependency and keep them from learning this critical life skill.

But how do you do that?

In the midst of running your business, it can seem more time-efficient just to handle the situation and tell the person what to do. After all, if it’s something you already have experience in, you know the answer. You’re eager to minimize the time you have to spend hearing the person out. A typical approach used by less effective leaders is: give them advice in as few words as possible so you can get back to what you were doing.

Unfortunately, while that may work short-term, it’s not going to serve you or the other person well in the long run.

Instead, when someone looks to you for ideas or solutions, the skill you want to become good at is asking questions.

So here’s what to do if someone comes to you and says, “I’m not sure how to handle this situation.” Instead of jumping in with your opinion, advice or solution, pause for a moment and then ask: “What options have you thought of so far? What do you think will happen if you do A instead of B?”

Now, you wait and listen. It’s natural for people to be uncomfortable after you’ve asked a question that requires them to think. YOU need to be comfortable with the silence as they ponder the question and consider their response.

As you guide others to figure things out for themselves through the questions you ask, their self-confidence will grow. They’ll see themselves as capable and effective, and their trust and respect for you will deepen because they’ll realize you’ve not trying to control their thoughts or actions.

Business consultant Sir John Whitmore once said, “To tell denies or negates another’s intelligence. To ask, honors it.”

How can you honor the people in your life by asking them questions that help them think through their problems and come up with their own answers?

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