Great Leaders Don’t Give People Answers.

Jake Wilder
4 min readMay 5, 2022

They Encourage Them to Think for Themselves

iStock/AntonioGuillem

“What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly,” wrote Thomas Paine. We value things more if we struggle to achieve them. It holds true for accomplishments, knowledge, and IKEA furniture. The harder something is to get, the more value it holds in our minds.

As managers, it’s easy to forget this. And when we do, our people tend to pay the price.

Consider what happens when someone comes to you with a problem. I’m guessing that if you know the answer, you’ll tell it to them. It saves time and energy. You don’t want people to churn over something when you can provide a clear direction. Giving them the answer lets them get back on track and moving forward.

If we’re being honest, it also feels good. We like when people come to us for answers. It reinforces the value that we provide. It validates our authority. Every manager wants to come across as knowledgeable and helpful. Giving people answers supports this definition.

Yet when we give people answers too easily, we rob them of the chance to grow. We make things too easy. They may get a solution, but they lose the opportunity to work through their ideas. They don’t develop critical thinking skills or improve their comfort with risk. Instead, they learn to outsource their thinking.

In most situations, action is preferable to inaction. You can learn from a misstep. You rarely learn from stasis. Our goal as leaders should be to encourage people to try something new, even if they’re not sure that it will work out.

When people come to you with questions, they’re giving you the perfect opportunity to do so. Instead of giving them the answer, ask: “What do you think?”

They clearly won’t have a perfect solution or else they wouldn’t be asking you in the first place, so don’t expect one. Remind people that you’re not asking them for a guarantee, you’re just asking them for their thoughts.

Most of the time people have some idea of what they should do. They’re asking you because that’s the safe path. If you give them the solution and it doesn’t work, they’re off the hook. After all, they were only doing what you told them to do. It’s not their fault if you gave them bad…

--

--

Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.