A manager’s job is leading a team to complete projects, right? That’s just a fraction of it. A much bigger—and much more important—part of this role is engaging employees.
It’s not enough for managers to manage. They need to be coaches. Author and leadership coach Doug Silsbee points out that coaching helps develop thinking processes and improve problem-solving skills. But too often, managers overlook engagement because they’re preoccupied with keeping projects moving and handling emergencies.
We were inspired by Silsbee’s “Develop Your Employees Through Questions, Not Answers” and compiled some of our favorite tips into a Managers’ Playbook.
Play 1: Don’t Rush. We’ve all been there: The clock ticks away toward a crucial deadline. Grumblings of “How are we going to get this done?” echo through the office. This is a chance to be a coach. Managers might try to save time by solving the problem themselves, but that robs employees of the opportunity to learn and grow.
Employees shouldn’t depend on managers to get them out of tough situations. Instead, managers should engage with employees and help them find their own solutions. Silsbee suggests coaching employees to think up two or three of their own options to help develop their thinking skills. Think of this play as an investment: The time managers put into coaching employees, they’ll get back in the form of a self-reliant and engaged team.
Play 2: Go Deep. Trying to solve a problem without addressing the cause is like simply taking aspirin for a broken arm. It treats the symptoms, not the root issue. Managers need to coach their teams to identify the problem’s cause and set it straight.
It’s important that managers work with employees to investigate an issue. Talk it out. Ask why. Delve deeper until employees discover the heart of the matter. This play helps get stalled conversations and stuck projects moving again, eliminating frustration and teaching your team how to avoid similar traps in the future.
Play 3: Switch It Up. Managers have plenty of experience. But relying solely on their own know-how is a surefire way to undermine employees’ confidence, and puts business practices at risk of becoming repetitive and ineffective.
Instead, managers should learn to switch up their game plan and use their experience to engage employees and broaden their perspective. Managers can start by considering how they would have solved the problem when they were in the employee’s position. Then, “ask the employee questions that lead him or her through a problem-solving process you have previously used,” advises Silsbee. This gives employees a new point of view and teaches them to handle problems in different ways.
What does it look like when you combine these plays? It looks a lot like 7-Eleven’s idea of Servant Leadership, which says that in order to be successful, leaders must put the needs of others first. When you do that, you motivate your employees. And as Vince Lombardi said, “Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The coaches who win are the ones who can motivate their players.”