Being a Good Leader Means Being a Good Teacher

In my first few months as a sales team manager, my true role became clear: It wasn’t just to be a leader and a problem-solver. It was also to teach people how to solve their own problems.

It’s common for a new sales rep to want to please everyone — especially prospects and the boss. But this tendency to please often comes at the cost of critical thinking, and that’s where a manager must become a mentor.

For example, a prospect makes an oddball request, and the knee-jerk reaction of a new, eager-to-please hire is probably to ask someone more senior for help. Without a second thought, a habit is formed whereby the new person didn’t consider the situation critically or independently, opting instead to jump out of her or his chair and seek higher authority.

Logical, yes, but it’s better to learn how to fish rather than be handed a fish. (You’ve heard something like that before, right? Right.)

It’s better for that person to return to her or his chair instead — or never leave it in the first place — and practice critical thinking. Usually, what seems like a problem above someone’s expertise becomes a lot more manageable if that person simply takes the time to map it out: the situation, alternative responses, what-if scenarios, and the like.

As a manager of people who face this challenge, it’s wise to implement a process around forcing the following sequence of questions upon anyone who shows up asking for advice to a “quick question,” as it’s usually advertised.

The person with this “quick question” must be able to:

  • State the problem.
  • State the best guess as to the cause of the problem.
  • Identify at least three different alternative responses/courses of action.
  • Recommend one of these alternatives and explain why it was chosen.

When people are unprepared to cycle through these questions, ask them to go back to their work area and return as soon as they are prepared. That might sounds a bit harsh at first but, soon after, members of the team will start thinking at a higher, more strategic level. This enables more advanced discussions the next time they stop by asking for advice.

Critical thinking represents a wonderful opportunity for individual and team development. Don’t let this lesson go untaught.

By David Sill