“I Don’t Know, What Do You Think?”

As a manager, I’m guessing your reports come to you with all sorts of questions. How should I respond to this email? What do you think we should do on this project? Should we change our timeline?

In the moment, providing a solid answer feels great. You’ve helped address your report’s problem, and they have clearance to move ahead. But over time, this creates a culture in which your team defaults to your direction when they’re stuck, inhibiting initiative and autonomy.

A helpful tactic to avoid this trap, and ultimately delegate more effectively, is to respond to every prompt or question from your team with seven simple words: “I don’t know, what do you think?”

A comic titled "A Daily Conundrum." An employee asks their manager, "Hey boss, what do you think about [thing you totally have an answer for." As a manager, you want to say: "Well that's easy. Let's just do A, B, and C." But you should say: "I don't know, what do you think?"

By responding in this way, you put your reports in the driver’s seat and set the expectation that they have the capability to answer things for themselves.
After all, the cornerstone of management is doing through others. Effective delegation is the means to this end, and with this question, you can easily delegate every day.

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Originally published at Manager Companion.