Digging Out of the Answer-Person Hole


There are times when a leader must refrain from giving advice and offering opinions; yet such restraint is difficult. After all, you’re paid to provide solutions….aren’t you? So you don’t pause to consider, in the moment, about whether it’s appropriate to give your opinions and advice. When asked, your mouth opens and you speak your truth without considering the consequences.

And so it continues. Opinions and advice are provided, and your staff keeps coming back to ask for more. You’re wearing down under the burden of being the person with all the knowledge. You’ve dug yourself into the answer-person hole and it seems too deep to climb out of. To quote an old commercial, “It’s a vicious cycle!” Do you really want to work this hard?

It’s flattering, but is it wise?

It’s certainly flattering to give your advice and opinions. Excuses I often hear from leaders for doing so are, “they asked me for my opinion” or “my staff expects me to tell them.” Stop and consider if this habit of is really serving you and your staff at this time and for this situation.

The truth is that leaders must give advice and opinions. The wisdom to be learned in this is discernment about when to give answers and when to guide (or coach).

Less-experienced staff may need more from you; your opinions and advice will be valuable as they are learning about the organization and your expectations. As they learn and develop, you will need to let go and let them grow by guiding (coaching) them, rather than providing your solutions.

Support your staff in finding their own solutions

When you support your staff in developing their own solutions and opinions, you’ve not only supported their growth, but you also free up yourself to do work that has a higher priority for you and your organization.

So before you spout off those solutions and opinions, ask yourself:

  • How does it serve me and those I lead at this time to be the answer person?
  • What does this situation call for?
    • Is my advice and opinion needed, or
    • Do I need to guide them instead?

It’s freeing to help others find their own solutions. Your staff wants to develop and discover the best ways that they can serve the organization, and you want to dig your way out of the answer-person hole. Perhaps now is the time to consider “guiding” rather than “telling”.


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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