Overview: Rushing to offer advice, solutions, and feedback is a weak leader’s way of handling uncomfortable problems and showing leadership. Intelligent leaders understand that trying to fix every problem is a fast track to micromanagement. Standing back and empowering employees by allowing them to make decisions is often the optimal way to handle problems.
When leaders or coaches provide direct advice and engage in problem solving directly, they assume control. Due to their positions at the helm of teams or organizations, leaders may feel others expect them to solve every problem or at least offer actionable advice. Teams that depend on leaders for every decision are not functional.
In many cases, leaders impose advice and problem solving on their teams despite having capable employees eager to take control and make their own decisions. In such cases, leaders have a detrimental effect on organizational problem solving, aggravating issues instead of resolving them.
Leadership Coaching’s View on Direct Advice
From a layman’s perspective, a leadership coaching professional is someone who comes in, delivers actionable advice to clients, and leaves. The reality is different. Though business coaching may allow for some direct advice, executive coaching is a different beast.
The objective of an executive coach is to plant seeds and set the stage for personal and professional growth. Giving advice is the crudest and least practical approach to that goal.
Coaches do not push their clients toward objectives they deem relevant and useful. They allow students to discover their purposes and set goals according to what’s relevant to them and their reports.
Leadership coaching is about asking questions and allowing the answers to guide clients. Coaches are not teachers; they are partners who facilitate exploration on an equal footing with their clients.
Coaching-Focused Organizational Cultures
Organizational cultures built upon the skills and knowledge of a single person are rigid, top-down cultures that stifle creativity and refuse to empower employees. Such forms of organization are obsolete. Leaders who maintain such cultures undermine their organizations by forcing employees to disengage and leave.
Intelligent leaders understand the value of the coaching mindset and culture. They know if leadership coaching works at the executive level, it can work on the level of employees as well.
In coaching-focused organizational cultures, everyone acts as a coach to everyone else. Leaders don’t rush to offer solutions to reports. Instead, they grant employees chances to come up with solutions and actively contribute to the success of their teams. They empower and motivate.
Why Leaders Rush to Give Advice and Why it’s Counterproductive
Handing out advice is the most comfortable way of dealing with problems. That is one of the reasons why leaders may be inclined to resort to this approach.
Advice, good or bad, gets the problem off our backs without requiring us to dig deeper.
The ambiguity that questions create is psychologically uncomfortable, yet it’s the only way to find the root of a problem and allow teams to treat causes instead of mere symptoms.
As in health-related issues, treating symptoms instead of causes allow problems to fester and balloon into systemic shortcomings.
By not jumping into advice-giving mode, leaders stay curious and make reports curious as well. The greatest benefit of curiosity is that it stops us from assuming we have the answers and prompts us to investigate.
How to Give Feedback
Intelligent leaders are open to giving and receiving feedback. How they do it, however, makes all the difference. Listening to an employee voicing concerns and immediately handing down feedback is as bad as haphazard advice.
- Leaders should actively listen to employees airing their concerns and observe their body language.
- Intelligent leaders ask questions and partner with employees to explore solutions.
- Leaders should explore consequences of decisions that stem from their feedback.
- Intelligent leaders only offer thought-out suggestions and potential solutions through feedback.
Great leaders don’t rush after every problem and see the quick provision of solutions as a personal challenge. They resist the urge to fix every problem and instead empower others and offer feedback born out of critical thinking.