Giving Back the Work

What we most want for our children is for them to understand what powerful creators they are and (like Marie Forleo says) that everything is “figure-out-able.” We want them to become resourceful, independent thinkers and problem-solvers. We want to hire the same kind of people with whom to work.

So why then do we continue to encourage the exact opposite by taking their challenges on as our own? Just like with our children, when we solve all of our co-workers’ problems, we teach them to become and remain dependent, not independent. We teach them to look outside for the answers and resources, rather than within. We inadvertently support them in being a victim versus being in control of their circumstances.

All leadership roads lead back to us so if you’re weary of being bulleted for answers to every single issue in your business, or conversely if you’re tired of having to be the one to bring issues to co-workers’ attention that are holding them back from their full potential… maybe we should reconsider the strategies we’re using to lead them in the first place?
Case in point: This week, in a monthly Leadership Mastery call with an office manager, we tackled some Courageous Conversations she was having with some of her employees. While she was doing very well with her conversations in conflict, she admitted to being somewhat stuck in some performance conversations where people made a lot of seemingly legitimate excuses.

When I asked for a specific example, she told me of a conversation she had with one of her hygienists who consistently ran late with her appointments. Though she had spoken to her several times in the past, nothing had changed and this time the hygienists stated, “I don’t feel there is anything I can do about it. The doctors always come in late to do hygiene checks in my room and the patients are always late so then I run behind. What do you want me to do… give them a sub-standard cleaning so I can run on time?”

The office manager was stumped and unsure where to take the conversation because she didn’t have an answer. And herein lies the shift: A supervisor gives answers. A coach gives the work of finding the answers back to the employee. This manager thinks her job is to solve the issue. But, even if she did solve this one… the next challenge will land the employee back in her office looking for yet another answer.

Instead, we have the opportunity to help strengthen the muscle of critical thinking skills by gentling turning the work back to the person… not because we can’t or don’t want to solve it but because in doing so, we rob them of the opportunity to discover their own ability to solve it.

How different might it be if we adopted a true “coaching” mentality by asking leading questions, discovering what the employee really wants, and gently leading them to their own answers and resourcefulness?

“I can really understand how frustrating those issues would be for you, Sara. What have you tried so far to solve them?”
“Well, nothing really. I don’t see what I can do to make patients show up on time or get the doctors in there sooner for exams.”

“Have you considered who might know how to do that?”

“Tina seems to run on time pretty consistently, but I really don’t know how she does it.”

“Well, the non-negotiable here is that we have to find a solution and I’m excited about supporting you to find one that you really love. Have you thought about speaking with Tina about the strategies she’s using? I’d be very willing to pay for lunch for the two of you if you wanted to come back with some ideas. Or we could clear your schedule one morning, if you wanted to assist and shadow her to come up with some fresh ideas about how to fix the issue. How do feel about one of those options?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Great, when could you let me know what you’ve decided to do and when it’s scheduled?”

“Probably by Friday.”

“Great, I’ll be excited to see what you decide by Friday, what ideas you discover, and what your plan looks like for moving forward.”

Give the work back to them. Enroll them in thinking through the people, organizations, publications, courses, etc. that might become resources for their solutions. Help them to learn how to get creative about solving challenges and strengthening their muscles for independence and self-reliance. Stop doing all the work for them and see your role as that of a coach who leads people not to dependence and powerlessness but rather to independence and pride.


“You have to enable and empower people to make decisions independent of you.
As I’ve learned, each person on a team is an extension of your leadership;
if they feel empowered by you they will magnify your power to lead.”
~Tom Ridge

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