Play Dumb to Manage Well



If you are like most managers, you earned your position by being really good at your job. You know how to solve the common problems your employees face, and you are expected to get the job done. As a result, when an employee is struggling, it’s easy to tell them what to do to solve the problem.

Stop doing that!
When you tell an employee the obvious solution, you’re doing the thinking for them. Sure, you may get the problem solved more quickly, but every time you do, you teach the employee to depend on you for answers. You are conditioning them to come back, again and again, rather than identifying solutions on their own.You’ve heard the proverbial saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same principle applies to managing employees. Your job as the manager is to teach employees how to fish.Instead of automatically giving the answer, stop and play dumb. Act like you don’t really know the answer.  You miss opportunities to coach the employee when you assume they don’t have answers or when you believe they are not capable of finding a solution.  Plus, when you do all the thinking, you let the employee off the hook for resolving the issue on his/her own.When you respond to an employee’s request for help with a series of questions, you are sending a message that you:

  • Believe in the employee
  • Expect the employee to solve problems on his/her own
  • Want them to learn and grow
  • Trust in his/her abilities

When an employee brings you a problem, practice playing dumb by asking open-ended questions like:

  • What do you think is causing this situation?
  • What have you seen up to this point?
  • What ideas do you have?
  • What options have you already considered?
  • What does the ideal solution look like?
  • What resources will you leverage to resolve this issue?

You may already know the answers to these questions. Guiding the employee to the answers develops the employee and eventually reduces the employee’s dependency on you for all the answers. Play dumb and you will be doing the employee a favor.

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