Early in my career I once managed a high performing leader who would often express feeling overworked and unsure of their role. In an effort to solve the problem, my gut reaction would be to try to control and fix. I’d come up with a list of parameters on expectations and try to clarify roles. I’d give guidance on where to spend more time vs. less. I’d wrap the issue up like a present, tie it with a pretty bow and then put it on a shelf. Problem solved. Or so I thought. The same theme with the same person would resurface. And I noticed I’d become increasingly exhausted trying to solve it.
In hindsight, I realized what I was really missing in solving this was one thing: curiosity. What was needed was for me to get curious and ask of them questions like: What do you really want? What would that look like? What do you need more of/ less of from me? How can I be a better manager to you going forward?
Instead of burdening myself to solve the recurring issue with excel spreadsheets, roles and task lists, an easier path was to help this capable leader get clear on what it actually was they really wanted. I’d come to understand that underneath the real issue was their desire to be recognized for their contributions in a way that was meaningful to them. Underneath it was their wanting to express what they needed to thrive as part of our team. What they needed was a collaborative process that was relational, taking into account how WE worked together.
Now as an executive coach for over ten years, when I see managers default to the exhausting control and fix mode of management, I challenge them to cease being a fixer and to become more of a coach. Solving the hard issues requires getting to the bottom of the issue. And getting to the bottom of an issue requires of us to be engaged and curious. Sometimes what’s needed is less “that’s yours and this is mine” and more “together we are.”
Farhana Huq is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Surfer, Global Explorer, and Founder of Surf Life Executive Coaching and Brown Girl Surf