Leaders: Are You Spoon-Feeding Your Employees?

Spoon Feeding

I had lunch recently with a very competent business leader who has worked primarily at large Fortune 500 companies. She is the model of Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership in practice.

Yet, at times, she finds herself guilty of “over-providing” solutions for her team.

Helping Becomes Hurting

She assumes that by the time her employees come to her, they have exhausted all possible solutions. She believes that strongly in their capability, yet in reality, she is a bit quick to give-in with answers that her people could find themselves.

When I asked her, in hindsight, did she find this to be true:

Did your employees actually do all the hard work of seeking the best solution?

She had to answer “No.”

She said this because her employees know that occasionally she will do the heavy lifting to solve a problem, they don’t always push themselves to find answers.

She strives to be a Teflon Woman, where problems don’t stick to her. Now, she is trying even harder. To be an effective leader, she knows that she has to be more resolute in delegating responsibility and creating authority.

She must hold team members accountable for their own areas of responsibility.

Asking The Right Questions

When her team comes in to see her, she now asks these questions:

“What have you done to deal with this problem?

Where else might you go to solve this issue?”

And with this, her team members turn and walk out the door, knowing that she will not be doing their work. This approach isn’t always easy for them. Some employees adjust to this framework more easily than others. But by maintaining the questioning posture, she can better assess whether team members have truly exhausted all possible solutions within their grasp.

Robbing Everyone’s Futures

Leaders who fall into the trap of completing their team’s work are not only stifling the team members’ growth as leaders, they are holding back their own growth as leaders.

If the leader is called upon to solve all or most problems, the company does not benefit from the brainpower of all its employees.

If the leader leaves or is unavailable, the remaining employees will not be equipped to solve problems on their own. On the other hand, if the leader asks his/her team to solve problems they encounter, there is a possibility for new and innovative thinking.

Individuals will be motivated to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Stuck In A Rut

Assumptions in organizations can become chronic. In one organization I observed, the outgoing leader did not want salespeople to work remotely.

This became so ingrained that when the leadership changed, the rule about not working remotely remained. Some highly qualified sales job candidates were not hired as a result.

When the new leader questioned this process, he was told, “It’s always been that way.”

Leaders must continually question assumptions—their own and others’. Often VPs are not willing to question everything, so this becomes even a larger task for the President and/or CEO to accomplish. The exceptional leaders that I know challenge assumptions with questions.

In the process, members of their teams become dynamic and innovative leaders in their own right.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Gary Cohen is Author, Speaker (on leadership) & Executive Coach at CO2 Partners
He serves clients with executive coaching and leadership coaching services

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4 responses to “Leaders: Are You Spoon-Feeding Your Employees?

  1. I actually found a solution many years ago. Very simple. I had a sign on my desk toward my visitors. DNCWP-CWS, First of all it made conversation:) Secondly when someone brought me a problem I simply pointed to the sign, which everybody asked about before or at least they asked now . What is this? I could explain it means “do not come with problems – come with solutions”. Thus I could participate (couch the employee) to the right decision based on his/her knowledge / experience. Long time the result was that people had solutions =(they had thought about the issue) before they came to me. Another thing is of course that I had no answers. I hired people because they could solve problems.


  2. It’s a great post. Sometimes the employee needs that extra ‘context’ in order to fill in the gap and help them find the right way ahead. And indeed, leaders have enough of their own work to do that is needed. While removing barriers and providing guidance and a bigger picture are needed, they also have to ensure they are doing the work that they need in order to ensure success both for their subordinates and themselves.



  3. While I think it is important to ask what has been done to address the issue at hand, I don’t think this is the solution for all cases. I am a veteran sales professional who has held very senior roles, of 25 years – Quite frankly, it is the job, I assert, of a Sales Manager, for example, to remove obstacles in the selling cycle. If I go to my manager with an issue, the last thing I want to hear is a redirect. He must know that whether I’ve done everything there is to do or not, it is his job to remove the barriers so I can bring the sale home- This is not the moment in time for them to coach me about the internal obstacle course which may need to be navigated-


  4. Pingback: Leadership updates for 05/31/2012·

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