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Things to do before giving advice as a manager

When someone tells you about a problem, it can be hard not to jump in with suggestions and solutions. But authors Karen Meager and John McLachlan suggest you try these three things first before giving advice as a manager.
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Most managers are inherently problem-solvers, and this is often a skill that leads them into the management sector rather than developing it on the job. So when a person – in or out of the workplace – approaches them with a dilemma, their natural reaction is often to jump in and begin fixing it.

Those who are not natural problem-solvers also like to lend a hand and help others out of problematic situations, even when they aren’t great at solving their own issues. Being helpful to another person makes all of us feel of value and desired, and at times, even somewhat powerful.

However, we know that in terms of intellectual development, it is often more beneficial to allow another person to explore an issue and identify the most suitable solution for it by themselves. By taking this responsibility, a person can own both their successes and failures, and experience the pride that comes with effectively managing a situation.

In all the years we spent coaching and consulting people, we have never come across a person whose own solution was not as effective as the one we provided for them. The key is that we are there to help unlock a person’s thinking, and empower them to map out a route to their own solutions.

The inherent issue with giving advice as a manager is that it effectively robs staff of the chance to tackle the problem themselves and potentially discover a problem solving strategy that will help them be more independent in the future. So when you next find yourself in a situation that would  prompt you to jump in and offer advice as a manager, consider instead one of these courses of action.

(1) Observation

Could the person who is struggling have a period of observation over you or another colleague that would help them get to grips with a particular skill or working style? Social learning theory and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) both evidence the fact that as humans, we learn well by watching others do something and then taking what we need from that observation to use in our own lives.

In an organisational context, where you have access to a team of people with a wide range of abilities and skills, this can be a particularly helpful approach.


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(2) Storytelling

Instead of demonstrating or offering advice as a manager on how to get around a problem, try telling them a story about a person you have known and seen go through a similar issue, and how they resolved it. Don’t tell a story that is identical to the one in question, otherwise it again undermines the person’s ability to draw their own conclusions.

By offering your experience like this, it allows the person to consider the story for themselves, and take what they feel they need from it, and use it in a way that feels right to them. This method also helps to build rapport and strengthen professional relationships.

(3) Multichoice

If a person has directly asked for your advice, or you cannot think of another way to approach a situation than to give advice as a manager, then try giving the person three options to choose from.

This enables you to offer support and help to colleagues, but still requires that they give it consideration and decide on which solution they feel will be the most efficient or best suited to their working style. By handing at least part of the challenge back to them, it helps to build their character and allows them to take responsibility.

Manage emotions

Of course, insisting that a person solve their own problems is not the appropriate response in 100 per cent of cases, and if a person is particularly emotional, feeling angry, frustrated or any other form of negativity, it is important that you take immediate action to regulate this.

In a highly emotional state, any of the above solutions could be seen as rejection and often aggravates the situation. As a manager, your colleagues’ emotional and mental wellbeing should be a priority. No problem will be resolved if a person feels overwhelmed, so first take steps to support them personally and defuse the situation before moving on to solving the problem at hand.

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are the co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and are co-authors of Real Leaders for the Real World; The Essential Traits of Successful and Authentic Leaders (£12.99), which has received 5-star reviews and was awarded finalist in the International Book Awards.


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