David Marquet served as a US Navy submarine captain for many years. His training as a commander included 12 months of rigorous learning about the structure of the submarine on which he was destined to command. He was trained to be the person with the most comprehensive knowledge of the submarine, with a leadership approach known as ‘Know all – Tell all’.
About two weeks before finally being posted on his submarine, David was transferred to command on a different submarine. At once, he went from being the most competent authority of professional knowledge on the submarine – the one person that gives orders and oversees all tasks – to being a ‘blank slate’, to the point of not knowing the functions of buttons on the submarine’s bridge. Mind you, it was a nuclear submarine – you do not want to press the wrong button on that.
Marquet quickly regained his composure and realized that he had to forget everything he knew about commanding a submarine and start working differently. He decided to turn from commander to leader.
He instructed his staff to stop giving recommendations and start expressing themselves in terms of execution – “I am going to…” instead of: “I recommend…” to improve their sense of personal responsibility. He taught them to say “we” instead of “I” – which significantly improved their sense of team responsibility. He stopped putting pressure on them and started creating a calm atmosphere for better stability and confidence. And most interestingly, in my opinion, he established his command on the knowledge of his subordinates. He stopped giving orders and just said: “I don’t know; what’s your opinion?”
This video reflects my set of beliefs in terms of how to deal with employees who seek your advice or are in the process of learning. No matter the subject, the philosophy underlying our model is “You have the solution. And if you don’t, then think of one. I’m only here to guide you.”
An employee comes to seek your professional advice, looking up to your great wisdom and rich experience. It’s good to be the one who knows it all. After all, it’s not by chance that you’ve gained this status as an expert manager. All in all, it ensures that things are done your way. Is there a better way?! So you give them your solution and send them away with satisfaction. There, you helped them. But what has your employee gained other than an immediate solution? And what will they do next time they face a dilemma?
The key to shifting from commanding to excellent management lies in empowering your employees. Empowering your employees means ‘teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish’. Help them acquire the skills and capacity to work independently on their tasks rather than positioning them as an executive arm for your advice and solutions.
We’re glad you asked.
Using OHOH! – our very own model of questions to help managers direct employees to desired solutions.
Objective – What is your goal? What would you like to achieve? What’s important to you?
How – How do you intend to reach your goal?
Obstacles – What could be a drawback?
How – How do you intend to tackle this obstacle?
! – You may also want to consider…, and make sure you…
Seems like a very basic model? Well, it works wonders, and not only in management (parents – try it at home with your children).
Our model enables employees to think and come up with solutions by themselves without having to rely on their manager for knowledge. This way employees can examine situations from several different angles, tap their own knowledge, set their priorities, identify their plan’s weaknesses and improve it. Thus, your employees acquire new skills and may resolve the next problem themselves without turning to you at all.
What’s in it for you as a manager?
- An opportunity to hear what your employee has to say (you might even learn something new).
- These questions reveal how your employee perceives the situation. Do they understand what is most important? And over time – what do they keep missing which should be reinforced?
- This generates independent and self-confident employees who seek their manager’s assistance only in crucial junctures and not in every step of the way.
- Time! Your administrative load is reduced, which leaves much more time for your other tasks.
Your challenge is simply to restrain yourself.
Ask questions and listen to the answers without interrupting and interjecting, even if the answer makes no sense. Remember – it’s very important that you get an idea of their way of thinking.
So next time an employee turns to you for advice, all you have to do is roll it back at them. Good luck!
P.S. The David Marquet video was sent to me by Guy, a successful manager I coached, after a meeting on a similar subject. I dedicate this article to him in return 😊