Hold Back on “The How”

hold back on telling employees how to do somethingAs a leader, one of your biggest, broadest responsibilities is to ensure the growth and development of your direct reports. Providing your team with trainings or other useful types of ongoing education may be beneficial, but you can also enable growth and development simply through assigning work. To make sure you’re doing this in a way that’s as empowering and effective as possible, make a commitment to tell them “what” to do but not “how” to do it. Let them figure that out on their own, resisting the urge to trump someone’s good idea or pushing your idea because you think it’s the best. Although someone else’s solution for doing something might seem mediocre, if that individual fully takes ownership for figuring out how to do it, gets invested and does it well, then that’s often the best approach after all. Also, expect that mistakes will be made along the way and be Ok with that. When your direct reports mess up, they learn and that lesson becomes a big factor in their overall growth and success.

Of course, your new hires will need to be told how to do things, but when it comes to those more seasoned employees, hold back on giving them “the how.” Here are several ways to support your more seasoned direct reports as they figure out how to get tasks done and achieve goals.

Create clarity around the outcome. When you assign a task, define your expectations for what you want it to look like in the end. Communicate the objective and put it in writing, so the final deliverable is clear. Get agreement on this from your direct reports and make sure that everyone knows that they — not you — are to figure out the “how” to achieve it.

Foster a safe environment. In determining how to do their assignments, people need to feel like they can explore, test and try things. They must understand that although you expect a certain outcome in the end, they are not required to be perfect and that mistakes (to some degree) will be tolerated. Look at making mistakes as an opportunity to strengthen your people’s knowledge and talent — a way for them to learn, grow and get to the outcome that’s solid and something you all can trust.

Provide support. Just because you hold back on telling your people “how” to do something doesn’t mean you can’t help them. For example, if they’ve figured out “the how” but lack certain skills, training, tools or resources to do it, then it’s your job to provide that kind of support within reason. Also, if they come to you in a crisis or seeking your guidance, you’ve got to be there for them. But make sure you take the “coach approach,” asking questions that help lead them to the right answers while fostering their ownership in those solutions.

What’s made it hard for you to hold back on providing “the how” for your employees at times?


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