The way that people lead is not working

Clare Norman is a Professional Certified Coach based in Beaulieu, Hampshire. She is passionate about helping business leaders, coaches and individuals be the best they can be and in this guest blog she talks about leadership styles; Asking vs Telling.


Clare Norman is a client of The Passionate PA, working closely with Debbie Frith. Clare is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation and a Certified Coach Supervisor. She has a Masters in Training, Certificate in Coaching and has received multiple awards for ground-breaking leadership development.

For over 20 years, Clare has focused on maximizing individual, team and organisation effectiveness with her business Clare Norman Coaching Associates Ltd. She is an expert in effectively managing people.

Clare’s Words

What percentage of your time, as a business leader, do you spend making decisions that your team members should be making; or doing work that they should be doing?

My research suggests that leaders spend 30-40% of their time working on decisions and tasks their people should be doing. That’s 30-40% of your time that you are not spending on more strategic work, and they are not working effectively to commensurate with their paygrade.  Does this sound familiar?  The way that people lead is not working!

You may be thinking that your employees need to get better at solving their own problems. You perhaps use the expression bring me solutions, not problems. The difficulty is that your people need some help to think things through, to find possible solutions. It’s hard to sit down alone and resolve things that need a bit of thinking out loud. So, they come to you and ask for your help.

They tend to ask in a way that suggests that they want you to solve the problem for them. In the interests of time, and because you like being the expert, you give them a solution and send them away to implement it.

There are multiple downsides to this:

  • You are not building their thinking muscles, so those muscles will atrophy over time and serve them even less
  • They haven’t thought through how to implement your suggestion, so they will likely come back with more questions
  • You are setting yourself up for a continuous loop of them asking you what to do and how to do it
  • That short-term fix becomes a long-term burden for you, as they keep coming back over and over again
  • You get frustrated and start to see them as underperforming.

The thing is, you created this cycle by giving them the answer. It’s not them, it’s you.

So next time an employee asks you what you think, ask them to find the solution, instead of telling them yours. Perhaps questions like this would help:

  • What’s the end result you want to get to?
  • What are the parameters within which you need to make a decision?
  • How will you know you have found a solution that will fit the needs?
  • What ideas do you have so far?
  • What else might you add?
  • What are the pros and cons of each of those?
  • Which one are you veering towards experimenting with?
  • What resources do you need?
  • How can I help you?

Chances are that they will come up with something better than you would have done, and you have started to build their thinking muscles. The more you ask rather than tell, the more you are supporting and challenging them to build those thinking muscles, and the less they will come to you for advice and guidance. They will trust their own judgment and won’t need you.

This will enable you to:

  • have more time in the long-term to focus on the strategic issues that you are being held accountable for
  • feel more fulfilled that you have helped someone else to grow
  • feel more challenged because you are working on strategic issues that require you to think
  • create employees who
    • will get more done, because they won’t need to wait until they can talk to you
    • feel more fulfilled as a result of getting more done
    • feel more challenged, as they will be using their brain to solve problems
    • feel more engaged, and will be more likely to stick around for longer
    • experience a more effective approach to management, that they can then use with their own team members
  • strengthen your succession plan with employees who are learning and growing

All that, simply by asking instead of telling! Try it.

Contact & Free E-Book

Clare Norman has recently published an E-Book entitled ‘Building a Coaching Culture’. To read or download, please click here.

If you’d like to talk more about how you can create a coaching culture or become a better business leader, please get in touch on 07775 817 344 or email Or visit her website.

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