When you solve problems for the members of your team, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to learn and grow. Learn to recognize if you have this tendency. The good news is there are ways to fix it if you do.
Today’s post is by David Marquet, author of TURN YOUR SHIP AROUND! A Workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
One of the problems I had when I arrived as captain of the USS Santa Fe was a dispirited crew that wanted to be told what to do. I inherited a dysfunction codependence with my crew where I ran around giving explicit instructions and making all the decisions and the crew waited passively for instructions. The crew had long ago given up on ownership, engagement, and job satisfaction. If you want to create leaders, stop telling your people what to do. Instead, get them to tell you what they think.
This is good for the organization and the team. It is good for the organization because it expands the thinking upon which decisions can be made, often drawing in people who are closer to the problem. The organization also benefits from increasing its decision making capacity. It is good for the team because it is the first step toward building the ability to solve problems and make decisions – the first step toward building leaders. People feel good about being more involved, and naturally are more engaged.
On the submarine, I had many opportunities each day where people would bring me problems without proposed solutions. This is a camouflaged “tell me what to do.” The idea was that I would take the problem, solve it, and return it to my midshipmen. We later called this poaching because you are depriving your ability to grow into leaders when you did this. I needed to train myself to recognize all the ways people would fall in to “tell me what to do” and resist the impulse to provide the answer. This was particularly hard when I already knew what we should do. This will happen to you to. As the leader, the one with more information, higher perspective, technical competence, or clarity of purpose, you will likely see the answer first. It is supposed to be this way but that does not mean you need to tell people it. Suppress the instinct for the quick response and see what your people can come up with.
Together with Dr. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we developed the ladder of leadership to allow teams to make empowering steps both visible and concrete. At the bottom of the ladder the workers say “tell me what to do” and bosses respond with giving instructions. Oftentimes, “tell me what to do” is camouflaged. For example, when someone brings you a problem without a solution, that’s camouflaged “tell me what to do.”
The full ladder looks like this:
|Worker says||Leader says|
|7. I’ve been doing…||7. What have you been doing?|
|6. I’ve done…||6. What have you done?|
|5. I intend to…||5. What do you intend to do?|
|4. I would like to…||4. What would you like to do?|
|3. I recommend…||3. What do you recommend?|
|2. I think…||2. What do you think?|
|1. Tell me what to do…||1. I’ll tell you what to do.|
Learn more – www.ladderofleadership.com
I am guessing that if you look around your organization you will find many examples of “tell me what to do.” The end of day checkout procedure for us was one. The “to-do” lists bosses kept for their employees was another.
Let’s imagine you are the operations director for a manufacturing company. Your normal process is to batch inspect parts prior to shipping to your clients for quality control. This week, a fabrication machine needed unplanned maintenance resulting in the parts coming off the line late. Either you ship without the inspection or you do the inspection and pay airfreight costs. The production line supervisor comes in and reports that “the parts are coming off the line late,” offering no suggestions.
Don’t give them the answer even if you know it. This is the big mindset shift. You will likely “know” the right answer or at least think you do, but this does not mean that you should tell them. When you do this, you deprive them of the ability to grow into a leader and you miss an opportunity to build decision-making capacity in your organization. Instead ask, “What to you think we should do?”
When we try to move someone up from level one to level two there are three strategies that I suggest.
1. Strategy one is to make the change small. Instead of asking them about the entire problem just have them describe a small part of the problem.
2. Strategy 2 is change perspective. Have them sit in your chair or ask them what they would do if you weren’t there.
3. Strategy 3 is called fast forward. With fast-forward imagine a time in the future [actually look at a calendar] and then think back to today and imagine what we wish we had decided today for the optimum future. Humans need help thinking long-term and this is one way to do it.
When we asks groups around the world to describe in a single word what would keep a person from moving from “tell me what to do” to “I think” the overwhelming #1 answer is “fear.” This puts a different light on the job of the leader in environments where thinking is desired. Instead of the more traditional provoking, testing and prodding, the job of the leader in these environments is to make people feel safe by creating a circle of safety. This concept is best described in Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last.
We found that even in emergencies it is better to not have to tell people what to do. Telling people what to do means they can’t figure out what to do on their own. We would practice putting out simulated fires on board. Fires are very dangerous on submarines because the atmosphere is contained and there is no escape. Originally, we had a central command post where officers directed the response to the fire. They would give orders like “Chief Larson, report with the thermal imager to the engine room.” The problem was that if Chief Larson (one of the few crew members trained on the use of the thermal imager) were unavailable, it would take several communications to direct another crewmember.
We changed this to “A thermal imager is needed in the engine room” and trained the entire crew how to use it. If Chief Larson, the primary operator were available, then he would be off. But if he were not available, another crewmember would pick it up and head toward the engine room. As he passed a phonetalker, he would report “Petty Officer Jones, reporting to Engine Room Lower Level with the thermal imager.” This resulted in a much more resilient and responsive system and we won awards for our ability to respond to fires and other casualties.
The result of not telling people what to do had a tremendously positive effect on developing leaders. A highly disproportionate number of the USS Santa Fe crew went on to leadership positions, including 10 submarine captains. The traditional leadership approach of “take control, give orders,” wasn’t working. We “turned the ship around” by treating the crew as leaders, not followers, and giving control, not taking control. We created an Intent-Based Leadership environment that resulted in a work place where everyone was engaged and contributing their full intellectual capacity. The midshipmen aboard the submarine were healthier and happier because they had more control over their work – it was a place where everyone was a leader.
Adapted from TURN YOUR SHIP AROUND! A Workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization (CLICK HERE to get your copy) by L. David Marquet with permission of Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company.
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