Business owners and managers frequently ask me, “How do you teach people to think?” This is a powerful question, one which can pave the way to a significant improvement in results. The answer: By learning to become a mentor and effective communicator and encouraging your team members to think for themselves.
If you want your company to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught — and then continually encouraged — that it’s acceptable to think their way through situations rather than relying upon you and others for answers or even guessing at a solution.
It’s important to understand that people who don’t feel safe asking questions will often guess as to what action is best to take. This frequently leads to errors that can ripple throughout business operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, time and resources are wasted, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This, in turn, will result in more time and resources spent to repair both the error and relationship with the customer.
Thinking is the process of employing one’s rational mind in evaluating a situation and then exploring possible actions that will lead to the desired outcome or solution.
There’s an all-too-common tendency among business owners and managers to supply answers rather than spending time with team members to help them find the answers for which they’re looking. This is due to a prevailing belief this saves time. This might be true in the short term. However, this approach actually costs more time in the long run, weakens your business and adds to your responsibilities as your team remains dependent upon you for solutions.
So, how do you use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves?
Begin by creating a safe environment for your team members to ask questions. This is accomplished through composure — not becoming disappointed, frustrated, judgmental, condescending or angry with anyone as you work together toward a viable solution. Build a positive environment where team members are safe to expose what they don’t know as they work with and learn from you.
Next, encourage team members to come to you with questions rather than guessing about the correct course of action to take. Help team members realize there’s strength in tapping available resources to create understanding and successful solutions.
Here’s a critical component to your success: Rather than simply telling your team members the correct answers, take time to work with them in exploring the situation. Ask them open-ended questions about the situation with which they’re dealing. This will allow everyone involved to develop greater clarity as you work together for a solution.
Then, ask team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perception of the situation isn’t accurate, ask further questions to help them deduce the best possible solution or send them in the direction of information that holds the solution.
Finally, have them tell you what they learned. This will let you know whether or not more work is needed and also help them to further ingrain what they’ve learned.
Over time, you’ll identify how best to mentor each individual, and team members will learn they can collaborate with you to improve their abilities to make sound decisions. This creates a strong bond between you and your team. In addition, your team will grow stronger, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver a far greater experience to customers.
Keep in mind a majority of people have been conditioned to rely on others for answers instead of learning to think on their own due to a lifetime of experiences where they were told who to be, what to do and how to think. When this previous conditioning is understood and overcome, individuals access more of their potential and perform at higher levels.
You have a choice to make regarding the development of team members: You can either increase their dependency upon you for solutions or empower them to look for answers on their own.
When you invest in your team members and their ability to think their way through a given situation to a successful solution, you’re fundamentally helping them empower themselves. This grows their abilities, lessens their dependence on you, strengthens your business from within and improves your company performance.
In every instance in which I’ve taught the leaders of a company to use mentoring and effective communication to develop independent, motivated and thoughtful team members, the organization has experienced increased happiness and success.