A direct report walks up to you and asks, “Can we talk?” She describes a problem she’s having. What’s your reflex response? Do you immediately launch into offering a solution? If so, you just robbed an eager employee of a chance to exercise her own problem-solving muscles.

Instead of immediately focusing on resolving problems, listen closely. Then, ask this simple question. “How can I help?” Those four little words open up a big opportunity for growth – for you and the employee. The question allows the employee to define the role she wants you to play. Maybe she needs your help thinking through the issue or identifying alternatives. Maybe she just needs to vent. Or, maybe there’s a roadblock she needs you to clear away.

As Tom Peters said, “Leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.” Fixing things doesn’t make you a good leader. Teaching others how to fix things and supporting their progress does.


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