‘What you need to do is …’ I was amazed.  I was talking to a colleague and was explaining an important issue that was niggling at me.  What I wasn’t ready for was being told what to do.  I am sure my colleague had the best of intentions when they said ‘what you need to do is …’.  I was struck by how little they knew about my situation, my thinking and my ideas for sorting this out, yet they felt they had the instant solution.

Sometimes there is a ‘best way’ to do something for example; setting up a machine, a computer activity or carrying out a disciplinary etc.  This is where the ‘what you need to do is …’ approach is appropriate. Yet for complex and new problems that leaders are challenged with, there are few situations that the ‘just do XYZ’ approach will work.  Added to this if the leader only uses this approach with their team they:

•             Close down their personal thinking and involvement

•             Dis-own the solution

•             Bring more problems in the future

•             Become disengaged and demotivated

•             Switch off creativity and interest

My experience of life has also taught me that there are very few people who have all the answers!

This ‘telling’ approach is the exact opposite of a coaching approach to leadership.  A coaching approach has the ‘intent’ that the person can develop a solution and the leaders role is to help them work this out.  They know the context, the details and therefore can develop a viable course of action that they own.  This is where skilled questioning and an empathetic approach really counts.  Most importantly this is how people learn so in the future they are confident and in a better position to work through issues themselves and having learnt a new way of thinking.

Great leaders have the intent and skills to help team members solve their problems so they own the solution, they learn, are more motivated with a greater sense of achievement.

These are coaching moments adding real value.  These conversations and opportunities happen most of the day, every day, we just need to sense them and make mindful skilled changes in style.  Have a look at this true story to see how a US submarine captain changed his approach and the associated results:


A coaching style and intent enhances a leaders skills, the teams ability, job satisfaction and their motivation.  A stronger engaged team is productive making a more productive business.  Please see here for our client case studies where leadership has focused on intent and approach.

With kind regards and wishing you well growing your range of leadership skills.


Malcolm Walton  Consulting Partner

Fairstead Development