Do You Already Know the Answer? 

The idea for this blog came from a conversation I had with a good friend of mine. They had recently started a new job, after being out of the corporate world for a while. Like anything new, the first few months were a honeymoon phase – but then things started to get real. The founder of the business wasn’t completely happy with my friend’s performance on the job.

Now let me back up and say that, while I might be biased, I know my friend is completely capable of exceling at the job. They have the skills needed in spades, and the professionalism to work alongside just about anyone. On this particular day, my friend called me, kind of freaked out and not sure what to do about an upcoming meeting. After listening for a bit, they asked me, “What do you think I should ask in this meeting?”

Handsome employee smiling medium shot.
Business people assembling jigsaw puzzle

Key Employees Often Have the Answers Already

I asked my friend what they needed to ask their boss, and the reality is, they already KNEW the answer to that question. I shared that from my perspective, as a founder and an employer, that if I hire a manager to do a job, and they come at me with questions I know they can answer – that I expect them to answer – I’d be disappointed that they were asking me. In fact, my first response would be to ask them, “What do you think we should do here?”

AT Least Have Ideas

So I advised my friend to instead go into the meeting and basically outline the problem, and then outline the solution for moving forward. Knowing the boss, the founder, was big on numbers, I also suggested that my friend give him an outline of expectations on metrics, including how often they would be reporting on those metrics.

The end result was that my friend went into that meeting and was the awesome leader and manager that they are. The founder was happy with the new path forward. My friend actually told me that my advice was some of the best career advice they’d ever received.

For the Key Employees Reading This

Now, first to those aspiring leaders and managers out there. When there is a challenge or problem in the tactical work you were hired to do, and you are going to be speaking with your boss about it, go to that meeting prepared to answer your own questions. If you genuinely have questions you don’t know the answers to, that is one thing.

For example, maybe you need a software purchased and it wasn’t in your budget, or maybe you’re struggling with a team member and you aren’t sure what to do – those are different questions. But when you are questioning what you should do about the work you were hired to do – be prepared to have a few answers to your own questions. It’s also ok to ask your boss to HELP YOU choose a path, but at least have a couple of options for them.

For the Business Owners

And for you and I, the leaders and managers of these individuals – this really comes down to training and reiterating that training. You can train your people to be self-reliant, or you can train them to bring every problem to you (which is the easier way to train). If you want to train your people to be self-reliant, do not answer questions for them. Encourage them to find the answers on their own. Let them know you are there for feedback and guidance on their possibilities, but when it comes to their field of practice, you want to empower them to find answers, or at least some possible solutions, on their own.

When they do ask you, the first thing you say back is, “Well, what are your thoughts on this?” 8 out of 10 times, they already have the answer. When they already have the answer, make sure you remind them of that by saying something like, “See, you already knew the answer to that question. Good job! Next time, run with it – I trust you.” That encourages them to move forward, shows your support, and gives them permission to NOT ask you about every part of their job. And unless you’re really into micro-managing, that’s exactly what you want from your team.

As leaders, part of our job is to open up pathways for our employees to do their best work. I firmly believe that one of those pathways is to coach them to become self-reliant managers and leaders. If you do this well, you’ll eventually be in a place where your main job is to lead, mentor, and focus on the very big-picture, strategic items to move your organization forward.

If you’d like to discuss this further, please check out my VIP consulting plan – short-term help that creates a long-term solution. My key employee coaching may also be of interest. As always, please feel free to contact me at any time!