Managers: Don’t Answer That Question! – part one1 min read

If most managers could listen to themselves for just a few hours, they would discover that they are chronically undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place and enabling dependency all around them.

How is this happening?

Just listen and you will hear a stream of questions coming at them followed by answers in response.

Most managers get to be managers because they have some field in which they are very strong performers. They are the organization’s experts. So, it is so natural for them, and everyone around them, to follow the reflexive pattern: ask the expert and be rewarded with answers.

However, if you want to get people to take responsibility and be involved in the business, you can’t go on answering all these questions. They will just go on asking whether they need to or not.

What should a manager do to break this pattern?

Simply announce to the troops, “If you want to ask me a question, you have to have at least three possible answers thought through before I will consider your question. If you are having trouble coming up with answers, ask others to help you. Group thinking is always the best thinking.”

In my next posting on this topic I will go into a few further refinements to make this a really effective policy. For the moment, the really tough step is entirely in the mind and habits of you the manager. You have to get up every morning and look yourself in the mirror and say, “My job as manager is to create an environment in which everyone will take responsibility and participate fully. To help this along, I will help people by not answering their questions.”