Your people come to you all the time with questions and problems that they want you to solve.

It comes with being the boss.

And, since you're a Type A Go-Getting Problem-Solver, there is nothing better than the feeling you get when you solve something really hard.

But the next time one of your team members comes to you with a challenge, I suggest that, rather than providing an answer, you take a different approach.

Ask: "What do you think?"

I know these four words will be hard for you (They're certainly not easy for me!), but here are four reasons why your should try this:

  1. The person posing the question is closer to the situation. He or she has more data, more background, and probably more experience in this particular matter than you do. That means your team member will be able to come up with a better answer
  2. Your team member will have a different perspective than you, no matter what. He or she will see the challenge in a different light, and that in and of itself can trigger new thoughts and new ideas--again, a better answer.
  3. You'll improve morale. There is nothing like the boss (implicitly) saying "I value your take on this; tell me what you would do" to create a motivated employee.
  4. But the last reason may be the most important. If you spend all your time answering everything, your people will stop trying to solve things on their own. Or, to cast the situation in a slightly better light, they won't think the problem through as well as they could.

"If the boss is going to come up with the solution anyway, I really don't have to," is what they will say to themselves.

If, on the other hand, they know you are going to ask them for their opinion, they will have thought things through to the best of their ability before they come to you.

So you will be further along as you start to solve the problem together.

And it is more than possible, once your team members really start to think about the challenge, they will be able to solve it on their own--which will benefit them, you, and your company.

Four little words can make all the difference.

Published on: Sep 23, 2014
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of