When I first became a manager, I thought my job was to give instructions and answer questions. No one sat down with me and set expectations on how to effectively lead a team. I wasn’t provided with any leadership training. One day I was just given the responsibility to supervise someone.
I became a fixer. She had a problem; I would fix it. After all, that was my job, right? Over time, my employee would interrupt me more and more to get her immediate questions answered. Sometimes she just wanted to “run things by me” to make sure she was making the right decision. Looking back now, I realize that I perpetuated this issue by always having the answers to her questions. I would quickly take care of the problem for her and then try to get back to my other tasks so I could get valuable work done. By quickly answering her questions, I was teaching her to upward delegate all problems to me.
Upward delegation is a challenge that can keep you from focusing on more strategic or important work as a leader. Upward delegation is when your employee relies on you to solve problems and fix issues for them. They shift the ownership to you, their manager, instead of solving the problem on their own. And it’s not always their fault. As managers, most of us were taught that our job is to do just that—fix problems and handle issues.
The challenge is, if your time is spent on constant interruptions and “fixing,” you will rarely find the time to work on your most important key result areas and priorities for your role. Your day will be filled with a barrage of issues, interruptions and emergencies. The more employees you manage, the more challenging it will become to be successful in your role.
If you consistently have employees who upward delegate to you, there is a simple fix that can make all the difference in getting them to take ownership and think for themselves. How we handle these interruptions and issues makes all the difference in how employees respond.
As leaders, we need to shift from being fixers to facilitators.
Fixers handle problems, emergencies and issues themselves. Facilitators facilitate others to take ownership and solve their own problems.
Let’s say your team member, Jake, approaches you with a problem. Instead of telling him how to handle the problem (fixing), you ask him, “What do you think?” or “What options have you thought of?”
This takes the ownership of the problem off of you, and puts it back onto Jake. Now Jake has to come up with an approach to solving the problem. You are teaching Jake to think through the problem himself so he can become independent and self-sufficient instead of relying on you (often the easier way to get his problem handled—you solve it for him!).
If Jake truly doesn’t know how to solve the problem, that’s where you as the leader can facilitate by coaching him through the issue. Some possible follow up questions might be:
- Where do you think you can find the answer to this question?
- What is one option you could try?
There are times that you as the leader may need to offer guidance or perspective to help him learn how to think critically through these issues. The point is to not be so quick to just solve the problem for your employee, which perpetuates a cycle of you fixing, and them not having to think for themselves.
This doesn’t mean that you as the manager don’t ever need to step in or provide an answer or guidance. But most often there are opportunities to build confidence, critical thinking skills, and knowledge by taking a few minutes to facilitate rather than fix. This is how we develop future leaders and stronger teams—by taking a different approach than being the keeper of all the knowledge and answers.
As leaders, we do not need to know all the answers. Our job is to influence and facilitate others to find the answers to solve their problems. I guarantee that if you try this approach, you will cut down on interruptions, develop more independent employees, and finally have time to focus on the priorities that will truly help you to become more successful and make a bigger impact at work.