Are You an Enabler Boss? 4 Steps to Developing Your People Instead

When you are constantly asked by a member of your work team for details on how to perform a task, it’s very easy to keep telling them again and again how to do it—or worse, doing it for them.

But does this leadership style help them gain confidence and grow into a high performer?  Or have you become an enabler of dependent behavior?

We’ve all heard the famous saying about how if you give someone a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime. If one of your direct reports doesn’t know how to do a task you have given them, instead of doing it for them, set them up for success. Give them the proper amount of direction and support until they are both competent at the task and committed to doing it themselves. This way, they will grow and eventually become self reliant.

So how do you lead someone in a way that will meet them where they are and help them move from low to high competence and commitment? To start, have a conversation with them about their level of development on the task or goal at hand. Then give them the proper amount of direction and support as they learn and grow. For example:

  • When a person doesn’t know how to do a task or reach a goal, begin with specific direction on how to do it and frequent feedback on their performance.
  • If the person becomes discouraged, continue to give direction and add praise to build their confidence. Include them in decision making to build their commitment to the task.
  • When they can accomplish the task but are still unsure about their ability, they no longer need direction but you should keep up the support in terms of praising, listening, and addressing any concerns they have.
  • After you agree with the person that they no longer need support and that they are both competent and committed to doing the task, delegate responsibility to them for day-to-day decision making on this task. Let them know if they need you, you are still there for them.

Once you start giving this kind of personalized leadership—targeted to the individual development level of each direct report on each of their tasks and goals—you’ll notice an improvement not only in your team’s motivation but also in their personal performance. What’s more, as a manager you will have more time for your own work because your people will see you as a partner in their success rather than as someone who sees them as incompetent or comes around only when things go wrong.

As a leader, you want your team to know you are always there for them. Giving them the right amounts of direction and support to match their development level on each of their tasks and goals will result in improved relationships, confident and empowered people, and a high performing workplace.

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