A little-used question that saves time and leads to more engaged employees


I have seen the following scenario quite often, both as a manager and as well as a management consultant:

Employee: “I don’t know what I should do.”

Boss: “Ah, a pity. Ok, here is what you should do…”

This is often accompanied by a sigh and thinking that the employee cannot solve things on his own (again) and that this means over-time and more work for the boss (again).

The boss then goes on and either explains the solution in detail or – even more time-consuming – writes everything down in an e-mail.

What are the problems with this approach?

• It does not help your employee to grow and learn
• It limits the answers to what you already know
• It takes a lot of your own time

A much better approach is to start a culture of autonomy: Always expect your people to bring solutions and their own thinking.

Here’s the question I used often when I was as a manager of others presented with the “what should I do?” question:

“What are the options, and what would you do?”

When I agreed with the proposed solution, a simple ‘ok, let’s do it’ was enough. Quick and simple and all were happy.

When I disagreed with the proposed solution I could enter into a discussion, learn new perspectives or also lay out and help the employee improve his or her thinking process. Again, time well spent.

This has the potential that you will have to explain our thinking process, sure. It might also lead to some arguments in the beginning.

The triple-win is that the employee grows and learns, new solutions might turn out and you save time especially in the long run.

Learn to let go of every detail and let everybody grow.

Picture credit: Flickr/fboyd

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