When someone comes to you for advice, the tendency for most people is to jump right in and give it. You may ask some questions, of course, but if you are a leader, chances are you are often asked for advice and are well practiced at giving it. You may enjoy giving advice, and perhaps even feel honored to be asked.
But, what if giving advice when asked for it is actually the most unproductive thing you can do as a leader?
In the book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier goes so far as to suggest that leaders should be lazy and not try so hard to be the one who has the answers.
While there is admittedly a strong pull to jump right into advice-giving and problem-solving mode when someone comes to us for help, Stanier suggests that we “stay curious a little longer, and rush to action and advice-giving just a little bit slower.”
Why? Because giving people our answer actually robs them of coming up with their answer.
This doesn’t mean to stop supporting people when they come to us for help. What it means is that we can lead others far more effectively when we focus on the questions and support advice-seekers needs in order for them to generate their own answers.
Here are three ways being lazy can pay off for leaders.
1. You empower people to own the solutions to their problems.
The solution you offer may work but if it doesn’t, who is responsible? You may even find the person coming back for another round of advice when what you really want is for them to think for themselves and do their own problem solving. By not offering up your answers but instead encouraging them to find their own, you are supporting them in owning their solution from the start.
2. You develop other people’s ability to think better.
Part of the reason you have answers isn’t only because of your experience or knowledge, it is likely because of how you think. By asking questions and offering your employees things to think about rather than giving them the answers, you are teaching them to think better.
3. You save time.
One of the reasons people jump quickly into advice giving is because it can seem faster in the moment to just give advice and move on. That may save time in the short run, but realize it will cost you time in the long run. The more easily you give advice, the more people will come to you rather than work things out on their own.
Note: I am not suggesting you tell people to only come to you with solutions, rather than problems. Telling people this can be a shortcut intended to get people to solve problems independently, but it can also discourage people from bringing problems to you when they truly need your help to think their way to a solution.
So next time you have the urge to give advice, get curious and try asking a question instead. Focus on teaching people how to think better rather than how to solve problems one by one.
The bad news is you don’t get to be the hero or get the satisfaction of coming up with the answer. The good news is that you will teach someone how to think better and be better at what they do. After all, isn’t that what quality leadership is really all about?