3 Ways Leaders Break Unhealthy Dependencies

Good leaders help their followers grow. They keep their followers’ best interests a priority. They invest in their followers. But sometimes we unintentionally hold them back by creating an unhealthy follower-leader dependency. How do we do that? We solve their problems by giving them answers instead of fostering insight. Consider the following scenario.

A staff person who reports to you comes into your office with a problem. She explains the problem. As she explains it, because you’ve had more experience than she, you quickly know the solution. She then asks, “What do you want me to do?”

What should you do in that situation? I see two choices.

Choice 1: You can save time, cut to the chase, and give her the solution. One problem solved: she got the answer she needed. Another problem created: the next time she has a problem, she will probably come to you again for your answer. You have potentially started to create a dependency.

Choice 2: You can take a bit more time and instead of solving her problem, you can coach her through a process so that she discovers the answer for herself. With this choice, the problem gets solved and you avoid creating an unhealthy dependency on you.

So, how could a leader implement such a coaching process? I suggest three guidelines.

1. Ask questions. When a staff person asks you for your solution, instead of reflexively giving an answer, respond with this question. “What do you think?” If you routinely give answers, your staff may need time to adjust to this new way of relating as you loosen the dependency.

2. Begin operating with a new mental paradigm. Solving problems is not the main issue, developing problem solving skills in your staff is. This new process will help your staff solve their own problems rather than them counting on you to solve them.

3. Realize the power of this process. This process, called insight generation, actually engages more of the brain. When someone generates her own solution (an insight) the fastest brain wave, the gamma band, sweeps over her brain. It’s called synchrony (think of how a conductor ‘synchronizes’ an orchestra’s instruments when he steps on the podium and lifts his baton). When synchrony results in an insight in your staffer’s brain (she discovers the solution) she will implement the solution with greater motivation because it is now her solution rather than yours.

So, examine how you respond to your staff when they want you to solve their problem. If you regularly solve them, try this new approach and see what happens.

Should leaders always apply this process? Or are their times we should give an answer?

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