We’ve all been there as a leader. It’s the end of the quarter. Performance is down, key projects are running late, frustrations are high, and our plate is full. We’ve not been checking in with our direct reports as much because there is so much to do.

Then, Monday morning, an employee walks in with a huge problem. But instead of helping them work out how to fix it, we’re so stressed and so worried about what’s on our plate that we just fix it for them. The employee is relieved, the task is finished, we’ve marked it off the to do list. Everything’s fine, right?


Next time the employee encounters another problem, what will happen? They will come to you. Imagine if the employee comes to you once a week for the next year. That’s 52 extra meetings. 52 extra tasks. 52 extra headaches.

Rule #1

Remember rule # 1 of leadership? It’s not about you! The first step towards developing a winning team is to make sure you’re not the one with all the answers. It’s easy to spend our time constantly dishing out advice and ideas – after all, when people come to us that’s what they need from us isn’t it?


Think about it. How many times have you talked through something that was bothering you only to find that by articulating it, everything fell into place and you knew exactly what to do about it. When people come to you don’t just give them the answer – that’s training them to hang up their brains as they step through the door. Help them to work it out for themselves. How? First of all by just listening (that means letting them talk more than you do!) Secondly by asking questions. Not answers with a question mark on the end – asking real, open questions that will get them thinking.

Everything changed

One manager I worked with confessed he had a team member who called him an average of 10 times a day. I was shocked. Simply by asking the right questions everything changed and within just a few weeks it became a regular occurrence for him not to hear from them all day.

Rudyard Kipling put it like this:

“I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.”

Put them to work

So follow in his footsteps and put his honest serving men to work:

  • What do you think is the problem? What have you already tried to resolve it?
  • Why do you think the problem occurred? Why does it matter?
  • When did it start? When does it happen?
  • How could you begin to address it? How can you move it forward just one step?
  • Where else may have you solved a problem like this before? Where do you need to go for help?
  • Who do you need to get on board? Who can help you?

I’m not going to overcomplicate this post. It’s short and sweet – because the message is very, very simple. Great leaders don’t have all the answers.

Great leaders have great questions.

So if you have employees who are too reliant upon you to do the thinking, how can you move it forward just one step?

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Peter Anderton

Author: Peter Anderton

A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.

Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.