How To Develop Independent Thinkers on Your Team

By Steve Hansen , PCC

Many executives we work with are aware of the value of coaching their people but often don’t make the time to do it. It takes less time to continue being their manager rather than their coach. Executives often want their direct reports to be more independent thinkers and decision makers but don’t do what it takes to get them there.

Managing is directing work. Coaching works well when developing workers’ capabilities. Developing your peoples’ capability to think independently when you need them to become less reliant on you, is our focus here.

You are likely to have developed a process of thinking around how you approach problems/projects/issues, and that thinking process is likely automatic for you. By unpacking your process and making it more conscious, you can help your people learn how to think about an issue and increase their ability to make better decisions and become more capable and independent.

As you approach an issue, what are the areas you consider to get to a successful decision about what to do?

Here are some areas that leaders typically think about as they approach an issue:

  • What are we trying to solve for? What is the issue we need to address?
  • Who are the stakeholders that need to be considered?
  • What are the resources needed? What resource are available?
  • What are the costs and impact on the budget?
  • What is the impact on other business units and the organization as a whole?
  • Do the solutions to this issue fit strategically and politically in the organization?
  • What are potential unintended consequences?

What approach do you take when thinking about issues and how can you impart that approach to your workers?

Here are some best practices when developing workers thinking:

  • First and foremost: Ask don’t Tell (remember: this is coaching, not managing). Ask them questions like the ones above and draw the answers out of them.
  • You will need to slow down from your normal work pace
  • As you look at their solution to the issue, first find out what their thinking was, how they got to the solution they are suggesting (i.e. Walk me through how you got to this solution.)
  • As you listen and begin to ask questions, ask questions that dig deeper into what they thought about and what they didn’t think about.
  • Ask questions that help them see how you think about an issue (i.e. Which stakeholders will also be impacted by this solution?)
  • Ask questions that you don’t know the answers to.
  • Ask open-ended questions  rather than questions that only require a yes/no answer.

Our goal here is to understand how they think and then to help them become more robust in their thinking process to include aspects that they initially missed. By coaching them to come up with answers to questions that they haven’t thought about, they build a bridge to better thinking in the future. If you tell them the answer  (as the manager) they may miss the opportunity to build their thinking process.

There is also a “hidden” benefit to finding out how well they think. You will be better able to assess whose capabilities are stronger and thus who you can more successfully delegate to in the future.

For more practical ideas of how to incorporate more coaching into your leadership, schedule a consult with Steve.