When you’re driving your car and a passenger is giving you directions—like turn left, take this exit, get in this lane, and turn right when we pass that old orange brick church—do you think you’ll remember how to get there by yourself next time? Heck no!

Now, consider driving to the same location by yourself and looking at the map ahead of time. Though this analogy might have worked better before GPS, the point still stands: when you figure out something for yourself, you’re more likely to remember how to do it.

When we think about things ourselves, we find meaning it in and understand why we are doing it, because this is how our brains work. There is a night and day difference between how we remember things that we simply heard, versus things where we went through the through process ourselves of what we need to do and how we should do it. When a leader allows others to hear themselves, they can clarify their own thinking and create new awareness.

The Manager Approach

As a leader, you have the authority to tell others what to do and what they are doing wrong. Sometimes, this type of management is required. But if this is your only style of communication with others, it does not always yield the flexibility you need.

In the past, I learned this with “Johnny,” one of my maintenance upper leaders. There was heavy pressure from above on our department, so that it constantly felt like being on the beach on a sunny day without an umbrella. As I grew more pressured, I in turn put more pressure on Johanna. I would ask what the plan was, give him directions on how to get the job done, and hold him accountable. Unfortunately, the results we needed simply didn’t arise from this communication style, and my relationship with Johnny became uncomfortable, even though we seemed to get along fine.

The Coach Approach

So how should you approach situations like this? If you go back to the driving and directions metaphor, it’s more about giving others their own compass to find their way. By giving themthe room to figure things you, they can develop their own leadership capacity.

You should use this approach if you are open to what they are planning to do and their style of doing it. If you know how they’re going to approach it and are not open to their methods, go back to the “manager approach.”

When taking the coaching approach, start with these three key points.

  1. Ask Questions
    I’m not talking about a bunch of random or pointed questions that will raise a defensive reaction, but open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Try not to start question with “why” when possible, and keep your questions concise.
  1. Stay Ahead of the Game
    Start with questions that ask who, what, where, when, or how. This allows you to learn more about the other person’s approach and helps you decide if you want to take a manager or coach approach.
  1. Be Aware of Body Language, Tone, and Intention
    Be curious and clear your mind of any assumptions—we all have them! This creates an atmosphere of discovery and leads to resourcefulness and new questions.

As a bonus, let them create the action. If it is your idea, you own it. You came this far, so allow them to come up with a solution and see how you can support it. Even f you don’t think it is the best idea, hold onto those thoughts. Your job is to shift them through the options and to come up with the idea they believe will work.

The Secret Ingredient 

Ask yourself: what did you get out of this conversation? What is the follow-up? Don’t lose this opportunity! No follow-up often makes it feel like the conversation never happened, so set a time to see how everything worked out.

This way, you can delegate more and develop more leaders!

Written by Trevor Blondeel, copyright July 2021.


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