Leading and not giving advice
Engineers who move up the so-called corporate ladder and become team leaders sometimes struggle with managing other employees. That can be because it was simply not part of their educational experience — or because their organizations are lacking in meaningful internal leadership development programs. One habit that new leaders can fall into is becoming advice givers to their coworkers. It’s an easy thing to do, for sure. Employees are coming to you with issues, looking for solutions to thorny problems, to vent about something, and so forth. But as Michael Bungay Stanier explores in his book, The Advice Trap, becoming an advice-giver is surprisingly the wrong way to lead.
Here are four great takeways from the book, which I’d recommend to any engineering leader, whether new or seasoned.
1. Avoid so-called fake questions when an employee reaches out to you for help. So many of these queries, which lead with “Did you consider …” or “Have you thought about trying …” are simply advice masquerading as questions. Our impetus to quickly give advice often gets in the way of truly listening. And it’s listening that so often helps us dig deeper into what the real issue is. Your questions should be “What …” questions instead. These types of queries are rooted in curiosity and help to get the coworker to open up further about what prompted them to come to you.
2. Try to discover the challenges and don’t worry about solutions up front. Human nature forces us to want to provide input and give value. However, often times the initial issue raised isn’t necessarily the only (or even the main) problem. Be the manager who helps the employee articulate the critical issue and allows them to be part of finding the solutions over time.
3. Don’t let “ghosts” get in the way of figuring out the issue. It’s easy to get sucked into workplace drama, where your employee talks endlessly about someone who frustrates them. As a manager, it’s critical in these situations to not contribute to the dysfunction. Your role is to acknowledge what’s going on is frustrating, and then asking directly, “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
4. Remember that it’s really about them. The true goal is helping your employee figure out their challenge in a given situation, not simply doing it for them. Aiding them in doing this will result in a team member who’s smarter, more confident, and (selfishly for you) more autonomous. That person will be a happier and more productive member of the team, and they’ll respect you, the leader who helped them grow.
Paul J. Heney – VP, Editorial Director
On Twitter @wtwh_paulheney
Filed Under: DIGITAL ISSUES