The shift from dependence to independence is a necessary step in growing as individuals. Anyone who truly wishes to lay a sound foundation for a successful professional or personal career must learn and master the art of not only becoming independent but inspiring others to do same, especially at work.
Think of it as a baby growing up into adolescence. At infant, babies totally depend on others to care and look out for them. But with time, they eventually reach the stage where they realize they no longer have to rely on others for everything. In the end, everyone eventually starts to develop a deeper sense of responsibility and accountability which in due course will promote and improve effectiveness and efficiency at work.
The transition from dependence to independence exists in many areas of life, including the workplace. As leaders, we want to quickly help our newly employed or repositioned personnel move from needy and dependent, requiring lots of direction, to being confident, self-reliant, and thus capable of handling delegation of duties.
Here are some steps that can help expedite the process of making your people more independent.
It is very common for managers and supervisors to want to ensure that their newest additions feel properly supported. They also want to avoid early mess-ups. So, they micromanage and insist on being involved in every step. While this is understandable, it is also detrimental to the new person’s growth. Find ways to allow them the space to work without constant direction so that they can spread their wings.
Be Willing to Let Them Fail
Jon Brodsky of Finder.com takes the approach of letting his newly appointed managers fail fast and forward. This does not mean that they get tossed into the deepwater section with the hope that they will quickly figure out how to swim. Instead, the goal is to give them space and permission (if not encouragement) to fail in controlled, low-stakes ways. This will give them an opportunity to learn from the process and start self-correcting. In the long term, this learning will be far more valuable and lasting.
Coach Your People Through Questioning
Instead of rushing in with answers, reflect the questions back and see what ideas and solutions are already in the other person’s head. Then ask, “And what else?” to probe further for more ideas. The goal is to get the coachee to come up with as many answers and possibilities as possible, promoting learning and independence.
Assign a Mentor
A mentor is someone who can draw from their experience and know-how to offer meaningful advice and direction to mentees and protégés. The right mentors have been there, done that and can use stories of their experiences to offer direction and clarity. For many new hires, their positions feel like a journey through a garden maze where it’s oftentimes difficult, if not impossible, to navigate from their ground-level perspective. A good mentor can position himself above the tall shrubs, as it were, and point their protégé in the right direction.
Offer (and encourage) Opportunities for Development
Work with your new hire or teammate to determine learning or skill gaps and offer training opportunities to solve those gaps more quickly. The more skills that people master quickly and the more they take ownership of their own learning, the better.
Perhaps, the most important thing you can do for new hires or team members is to let them know that you expect them to take personal responsibility for their work. In a recent podcast interview with Mike Abrashoff, former commander of the USS Benfold and author of “It’s Your Ship,” tells a story of a serviceman who had greater technical skill than he possessed but still came to the commander for guidance. Abrashoff responded by asking the young man what he would do, told him to do it, and then added, “It’s your ship”.
Make Communication Two-Way
Abrashoff also talked about how he kept communication lines open so that if others saw something that they thought would improve performance, bring about lower expenses or offer some other benefit, they could boldly go up the chain of command and share. This is sound advice for every business. We all learn and perform better when we’re given an element of control and the ability to share what we learn. New hires and team members should be afforded similar opportunities.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a new hire is to make yourself inaccessible, just long enough for them to have to work things through independently. While this strategy should be used sparingly, it can be useful to force your people into taking ownership while allowing you to observe how they respond under such circumstances.