When I first started managing people, I prided myself on being a fixer. I listened to the issue and then swiftly and directly gave my advice on what to do and how to do it. If you were to walk by my office during one of these conversations you would have heard me say things like, “In my experience…,” or “If I were you, I would…” or “Have you thought of…”
What I realized over time is the more problems I fixed for people, the more problems they brought me to fix. I became overwhelmed with my own work, because I was too busy rescuing people and fixing everyone else’s issues. I also realized many of the issues they were coming to me with were things they could have figured out on their own, but instead came to my office as a first step because they knew I would give them a solution.
When faced with the reality of what my leadership style was versus what I wanted it to be, I started to learn more about the concept of leading with curiosity. I read a few articles about coaching, which sparked me to take an introduction to coaching course. Through my readings and the course, I learned a different way to help people: not by giving them an answer, but instead asking questions. I also realized it was an unrealistic expectation I put on myself that I should have all the right answers for every issue for every person in every situation.
“Through a lot of repetition (and learning to bite my tongue when I wanted to fill the silence), I started to make asking instead of telling a conversational habit. I felt I was starting to migrate to how I wanted to bring value as a leader and problem solver.”
I took every opportunity to practice this new skill. When I had conversations with anyone, I would consciously force myself to only ask questions. It took all my energy and focus sometimes to not blurt out a solution. Through practice, however, I got a little better each time learning what questions to ask and different ways to quiet my brain and detach myself from having to have the answer. Through a lot of repetition (and learning to bite my tongue when I wanted to fill the silence), I started to make asking instead of telling a conversational habit. I felt I was starting to migrate to how I wanted to bring value as a leader and problem solver.
Through my daily practice, I also learned people started to come to me not for my experience and quick answers, but instead my ability to listen and help them to analyze their unique situation and determine their action plan to address their problem. When you pass my office now, you hear me say things like, “Tell me more about that,” or “What have you tried so far,” or “What is a first step you can take?”
So the next time someone pops into your office with an issue, before you immediately jump into problem-solving mode, try asking a few questions. I think you might find it is ultimately less work for you, (YEAH!) and the person might surprise you with some creative solutions and original ideas (WIN!).