I often think how much easier my job would be if only clients followed my advice, yet I know better. I am more effective as a consultant and coach when I help clients find their own solutions.
When I share a problem with a friend and he or she says, “What you need to do…” I bristle. All I really want is for my friend to listen. Clients must feel the same way. Most need me to just listen while they find a solution on their own.
Al-Anon (a fellowship for friends and families of alcoholics) teaches not to tell others what to do, but instead to share “our own experience, strength, and hope.” Others may relate our story to their own and see a solution they had not seen before.
I once worked with a young man who was passed up for a promotion and was unsure on how to proceed. “What do you think you should do?” I asked. “Quit,” he too-quickly replied.
I then told him about one of my first jobs out of college; I was constantly making mistakes because I couldn’t handle multiple projects. Instead of facing an upcoming review, I quit. Months later, in a new job, I found myself in a similar situation. Only when I learned how to manage multiple details did my career advance.
My young client identified with my story and soon came up with a plan. He would ask his boss for feedback on his performance and ask what he needed to do in order to get promoted. He would then draft a development plan, review it with his boss, and seek his help. My client’s plan worked and within six months he was promoted.
As consultants, managers, and leaders we shouldn’t be in the business of just doling out answers; instead we should give others the encouragement they need to find their own solutions. Only then can real learning take place.
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