As a manager we're presented with varying types of problems, issues, and questions throughout each and every day. Our instinct is to immediately offer a solution and move on. Is this the right first step to demonstrate good leadership skills? Let's take an example and walk it through to see if your first thought on answering this question will still be your second thought.
Let's say instead of getting involved or providing the employee with their next steps, you ask them what they think should be done. The direct report likely explains their dismay with jeopardizing the project timeline and the need to table the change to a later date. Next you ask the employee how to accomplish influencing their customer's view on this change. At this point I'm sure you're as your reading along you're also thinking about how much time and effort this discussion will take and if you're not, I'm sure if you think about similar situations in your day to day work, you'll think of a couple of examples where you answered the question or provided direction rather than leading with questions.
Benefits of Leading with Questions: Employee Development
By asking your employee to walk through the situation, provide options, and solutions, you accomplish a couple of things that are not achieved with a quickly offered solution. First you take advantage of a real time opportunity for coaching. Often times managers opt for scheduled coaching sessions rather than recognizing these real time opportunities as the gems they are. How much more beneficial will the employee development of your team be if the coaching occurs in the middle of a situation or issue they are dealing with?
We've all heard the old saying that you can feed a man a fish and he'll eat for a day or you can teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. This tells us that the extra time spent will benefit your employee in the long run, as the next time they are presented with a similar situation, they will be able to think through their next steps with less guidance. Forcing your direct report to work through a problem or issue with you and to get to the answer themselves, ensures that they learn a skill set they can carry forward and that they retain the coaching you have provided. If you only provide them with an action to take, it is unlikely they will remember that action if a similar situation is presented to them. On the other hand demonstrating good leadership skills by working through it, they learn a thought process and will likely leverage it going forward.
Of course there are also benefits to you as their manager. Since you have taken the time to coach and question your employee through a problem, you will experience a new level of employee development as they now have a new skill set that will allow them to only come to you when they are presented with new scenarios. You will see your immediate time investment repay itself with added time later from a more productive and self reliant team.
As you apply this method with your teams you will also notice a difference in the level of innovation and added diversity of thought. When managers provide all the answers, they often are also unintentionally sending the message that only they have the right answer. This can squash any new or different ideas that might otherwise inspire new strategies, products, or technology in your organization. By demonstrating good leadership skills and by Leading with Questions you send a message to your employees that it is okay to ask questions and even to not initially know an answer, and by doing so will breed more free thought, build a collaborative environment, and attain a higher level of employee development.