If you were born before the advent of GPS, you probably remember the joy of navigating with maps. Not the electronic ones found on today’s digital dashboards—real maps. Large, folded ones that could cover an entire wall when unfolded. Or better yet, the old street map books where your starting location was in cell B-1 on one page, your destination was in cell D-14 on another, and you’d have to frantically flip pages while driving to avoid missing your next turn.
I hated those maps, but there was one benefit: when I used them, I had an uncanny ability to remember directions. In the old days I was an active participant in the navigation process and learned because of that participation; however, now that I use Waze every day, I’m a passive participant and learn very little.
So, what does any of this have to do with business?
Most leaders face significant constraints on their time and, in a rush to address the myriad of issues facing their businesses, they sometimes default to answering questions or dictating instructions rather than stimulating the curiosity, critical thinking, and decision-making skills of others. Doing this also sends an implicit signal that their judgment cannot be trusted, leading to lower morale. While a leader may be able to avoid these adverse consequences for a while, at some point growth will slow, value will stagnate, and succession or exit plans may go up in smoke.
The good news is that the solution to these problems is simple. Instead of jumping in headfirst next time, pause for a moment and try to ask an open-ended question. For example, let’s say you’ve asked your team to consider options for geographic expansion and they recommend Dallas, which you rightly believe is a horrible idea. Rather than pointing out the reasons why they are wrong (starting with the Cowboys), ask them to explain the factors that they considered when forming their conclusion and gradually work from there, peeling back the layers to help them arrive at a much better conclusion (anywhere but Dallas).
If you make a habit of doing this, your team will develop the skills they need to step into larger roles, saving you time and energy, and ensuring the ongoing vitality of your business.