This isn’t as easy as it sounds. As a parent and as a manager, we often want to step in for a variety of reasons—to save time, to save others trouble, to make sure it’s done the “right” way. But one of the things that separates a great parent and manager from the good ones is the ability to know when to step in and when to step back.
Provide too much guidance and you risk micromanaging and squashing creativity. People stop thinking for themselves—because they feel their opinion isn’t valued anyway. They start performing on auto-pilot. They do exactly what they’re asked to do—which may sound good, but has consequences. They don’t ask for clarification or question whether there’s a better way to do something. This leads to mistakes and decreased innovation.
Provide too little guidance and you risk people not knowing where to begin or taking too much liberty and going down the wrong path. The context, parameters and resources you share when giving a task or project to someone gives them important inputs and guidance that are essential to driving towards the right solution at the right pace. Without it, people can be lost at sea.
So how much guidance is the right amount? There is no magic formula. It’s more of an art. I find that there are a few great analogies that can help us figure out this art. Think of an amazing musician, dance company or sport team. How did those performers and players reach their optimal performance as a group? It was a blend of instruction (teaching the proper moves and technique through demonstration), practice (they actually had to perform the moves, both individually and as a group), and feedback specific to their performance.
You hopefully can think of some examples of teachers and coaches that do that well—they provide just the right amount of guidance—and have unleashed the power of an award or trophy winning team.
Now, apply this to your family and your work team. Think of yourself as an award winning coach or teacher that has the power of unleashing the potential of your team. When presented with the opportunity to step in or step back, ask yourself what the award-winning coach or teacher would do:
- Make sure you’ve given the right amount of context. People can perform better if they know a bit of the “backstory” as to why they’re doing something. A dance company isn’t just taught each move in the technical sense, but they are given the broader story of the entire performance and the suggested emotion that the specific move is intended to convey. A sports player isn’t just given the specific play to execute, but is also given the context of what the rest of the team will be doing, and the motivation for picking that play out of the playbook.
- Make sure that you’ve given out any parameters or restrictions. Games are played within the context of league rules. Stage performances are limited by the size of the stage and the technical specifications of the venue. At work and at home, a specific task or project is usually limited by budget, time, and resources. Don’t assume that people know those limitations. Confirm that they do, and clarify any confusion before they begin.
- Tell people that they have some creative freedom. This may sound obvious, but some people need this permission. In general, people want to please, and they will often default to doing what they think will make you happy—which could mean doing what they think you would do in the situation. This doesn’t always empower them to be creative. Giving them the simple reminder and encouragement that you believe in them and want them to apply their unique perspective and creativity gives them a freedom to think outside your box.
- Resist the urge to give a prescription. If people ask you what they should do, kindly tell them you’re intentionally not telling them—and remind them that you believe in their ability to figure it out. As a parent, this is especially hard, but essential to your kids personal development. If we protect our kids and give them the answer all the time, we’re doing them a great disservice. Sometimes they have to figure things out on their own—even if it means making a few mistakes.
- Check-in periodically to give feedback. Just as a coach or teacher watches many of the practices and rehearsals, so you should observe and check in with your team. This important step gives you a chance to course correct if needed, provide additional context and parameters that you have forgotten or that may have come up after your initial discussion, and to give your team additional feedback and encouragement. The quickest way to deflate your team is for you to wait until the end to check in with them and then tell them that everything they worked on was wrong. Proactive check-ins prevent this disaster from happening.
- Ask them to explain the end result. Don’t just take the deliverable or result as it is and interpret it for yourself. While often said sarcastically, the “what were you thinking?” phrase offers up a really important opportunity for teaching. Even when people get the “right answer” or a positive outcome, knowing the thought path that got them there can provide important insight. Not only can you provide feedback and deeper insight, but you might also learn some new and powerful perspectives, techniques and tools!
- Celebrate the outcome. Whether it’s good or bad, celebrate the effort everyone put into the outcome. If it’s bad, discuss what they’ve learned and applaud them for their courage. If it’s good—still ask what they would do differently next time. This important step reinforces your desire to let them shine for their own talents and creativity and reinforces your belief in them. Important side note—make sure you celebrate in a way that’s meaningful to them, not necessarily how you would prefer to celebrate.
Let me know how these tips work for you—and if you have any others to share. Go ahead coach, win that championship and own the stage!