If you manage or lead a team you’ve probably experienced well-meaning individuals who seem to lack the confidence, ability or willingness to identify solutions to their own challenges, and want to unload them into your lap instead. Find out why this happens, and how you can nip this behaviour in the bud!
Why does this happen?
There’s usually two factors at play in these scenarios.
- The Employee; and
For some, it may be that they are unsure of their boundaries and feel obligated to check in with you before taking any action; or perhaps they have poor problem-solving skills or workplace knowledge and would benefit from some developmental work in this space. For others, this has perhaps just become their habit, or maybe some of the more cynical disgruntled employees just feel ‘it’s your job’. In a leadership workshop I was facilitating recently, a manager spoke about a problem she was having that was impacting her ability to achieve on a priority outcome. When I asked what steps she had taken to address the problem; she responded “nothing, it’s not my problem to solve, it’s my Directors.” This is a classic case of digging your heels in and playing politics, rather than demonstrating behaviours that are congruent with a leadership role. Certainly, at that level we’re expecting high levels of accountability, problem solving and commitment to outcomes.
Unfortunately, despite our best intent, we can in fact play a big part in enabling this behaviour. On occasions, when I’ve Coached leaders through this issue they will confess to secretly liking the feeling of being needed by their team. And those new to Leadership often think it’s just part of their role, and lack the confidence or the skills to create accountability in their employees. And I too can hold my hand up and confess to doing exactly this in my early leadership days. We sometimes tell ourselves stories as leaders, about what leadership means. The buck stops with us right? So we’re the problem solvers. It’s up to us to provide the answers for our teams. Well, no, actually. It’s up to you to set vision, clarity, and when necessary clear the path ahead. It’s up to you to build skills and develop your people, but, we do ourselves, our people and the organisation a disservice if we create dependent behaviours.
Getting the balance right
There’s a delicate balance between providing the support, guidance and direction a Leader is expected to provide; and taking on the problems for your people. The ideal balance is when you collaboratively work to solve the problem by showing faith in their abilities and helping to build their capacity.
How to Increase Accountability
Just how do you get the balance right?
Through three simple questions, you should introduce into your day immediately.
- What is it that you are trying to achieve?
This helps find specificity in the task, reclarifying the actual problem and identifying what the fix may be. It also helps bring clear focus to the discussion.
- What have you tried so far?
This sets the expectation that you expect them to have at least tried to identify a solution before bringing it to your door. If it’s nothing, or they give you an example, try the next set:
- What could you try? How could you find out? What are your options? What other options are there for you to explore?
Again reinforcing you expect them to take action and responsibility (assuming it’s not something that requires escalation or your intervention of course).
Your support and guidance as a leader in these situations is to build their capability. To help them to think clearly and thoroughly and develop problem solving skills and behaviours that could reasonably be considered enterprise skills in any work environment.
This is not about ‘fobbing off’ your responsibility but supporting your people to achieve their own resolutions and freeing up some of your time to focus on more strategic aspects of your role.
Have a great day!
Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner