'It drove me nuts': A leadership expert explains how an old boss' frustrating habit made him a better employee

Boss meeting coworkersMikhail Goldenkov/Strelka Institute/Flickr‘The guy never answered a damn question.’

As a manager, it can be tempting to tell every single member of your team exactly what they should be doing, so no one messes things up for you.

It’s a surefire strategy for producing great results in the short term: having all those clones of you running around the office. It’s also a surefire recipe for long-term disaster, because the second you don’t give specific instructions, your team will be completely lost.

It’s something Simon Sinek can appreciate today — but didn’t necessarily understand earlier in his career. Sinek is a leadership expert and the bestselling author of multiple books including, most recently, “Leaders Eat Last.”

When he visited the Business Insider office in July, Sinek said the best boss he ever had taught him the virtues of “self-reliance.” Here’s Sinek:

“Peter frustratingly would never answer a single question, ever. It drove me nuts. I’d be like, ‘Hey, Peter, what do you think we should do?’ He’d be like, ‘What do you think we should do?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I think we should do this.’ He’s like, ‘Well then, do that.’

“The guy never answered a damn question, but what he taught me was self-reliance. What he taught me to do was trust myself, and if I made the wrong decision, he always had my back.”

Obviously, Peter’s refusal to answer any questions was frustrating for Sinek. It might have been frustrating for Peter, too, since presumably it took Sinek longer to figure out how to solve a problem than it would have taken Peter. Ultimately though, this strategy probably made Sinek a stronger employee.

It’s similar to a strategy used by Leon Shimkin, the former owner of publishing house Simon and Schuster. As Shimkin told bestselling author Dale Carnegie, if you wanted to present a problem at a meeting, you’d have to first answer a bunch of questions, including: “What solution do you suggest?”

Shimkin told Carnegie it cut down meeting times by 75%.

Of course, a key piece of this technique is not placing too much blame if your employee makes a mistake. As Sinek said, Peter “always had my back.” If you’re empowering your team to make decisions on their own, you also have to be prepared to deal with the inevitable screw-ups.

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