When No Answer is An Answer

Many times we all have approached our supervisor or boss with a key decision on a very simple but tough issue. The issue appears to be something that needed our immediate decision because it involves one of our direct reports.  In many cases, it was a decision that we should have made on our own. If you are like me, you have had a lot of these kind of decisions over the years. After explaining the situation carefully to your supervisor, the issue usually goes days without hearing a final decision. Then you realize after several attempts to get an answer that maybe “NO Answer” is an answer.

No Answer is An Answer

Leaders always have three possible answers – 1) make a decision to keep it as it was;  2) make a decision to change something or; 3) give no answer at all.

It doesn’t take long to see when “No Answer” can be an important tool for developing leaders. Some issues that we bring up the chain should be answered by doing our homework and then making a good decision. It is too easy to just go ask and not have to do the work of digging out the issues. We all know these ground level decisions can increase tension with employees so we tend to pass them up to our supervisors. Our goal or logic is to have these sensitive decisions to be made by the upper management so we don’t have to be the bad guy.

We all have employees or customers that push the lines and their actions may force us to make a tough call. It is in those times, that we can gain creditability with leadership by going ahead and make the decision and then discuss it with them before we communicate the answer.   I think you find honest feedback when you become the problem solver by taking ownership for your own decisions. Seeking guidance and wisdom from your supervisor is always wise until you understand the culture and direction of the organization.

Three important steps to coaching new leaders:

1. Give new leaders a honeymoon period when they can come in and ask for advice on any issue. I call this the adjustment period.”

2. The second phase is the “check my decision phase” – which is to have them share their decisions before they are communicated to their employees or customers. This gives you time to check their research and thought process for the level of detail in their decision making.

3. The third phase is the ownership phase where you define what decisions should be made on their own and what should be discussed. Naturally, this level of ownership depends on the person’s ability and track record.

Too many times, lack of trust hinders development and we tend to operate only in the first two phases. However, when mentoring is effective – it can have a powerful impact on the level of operation.

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer, but we wish we didn’t. Arthur Unknown

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