When I became a manager, I kept asking my team small questions whenever something affected them:
Should we estimate this project?
What’s the priority of this work?
Where do you want to go for lunch?
These seem like reasonable questions. I thought I was collaborating – I didn’t want to prevent others from contributing. But that wasn’t the real reason I asked these questions.
I was scared.
I feared that people would hate my choice. I worried about making the wrong decision.
In reality, people didn’t care. They wanted clear expectations from their manager. My team didn’t need to give input on every choice. My job was to create an environment for them to do great work.
Over the years, I’ve seen this indecisiveness come from other leaders. Everyone’s uncertainty is different. Some may feel fear like I did. Or they think they’re not allowed to make the call. Whatever the reason, we need to learn when to show decisiveness to guide others.
In this post, I’ll explain the techniques I used to stop asking small questions, become more decisive, and avoid McDonald’s for lunch.
Disclosure: This article includes affiliate links to any books I reference. I may receive compensation when you click on links to these products.
Leaders Create the Environment and Avoid Small Questions
For a long time, I was nervous about changing team processes. I didn’t know the problems I was responsible for. For years, I was an engineer shipping code. Now I was leading an engineering team. I needed a mindset shift.
My job was not about writing code anymore.
My priority was to create an environment for people to thrive. I needed to stop fixing bugs and learn why they were occurring. The action items from retrospectives were my responsibility. The manager’s job is to understand their area of influence. They’re meant to address the people-focused problems of the team.
So when you want to ask small questions, reflect on them for a moment. If the question affects the team’s environment, that’s an opportunity. It’s a chance for you to make a recommendation.
Make Recommendations instead of Asking Small Questions
Whenever changing the team’s processes, bring a recommendation instead of small questions. You’re creating work for others whenever you raise questions you know the answer to. By giving a recommendation, you show ownership of solving the problem.
Recommendations are a more approachable frame of mind. You’re still raising the problem you see to the team. But you’re taking the necessary step of providing a solution. By framing this solution as a “recommendation”, you’re still welcoming input.
This approach will have a large impact over time. You’ll figure out the topics that people have little interest in or the areas people care about a LOT. The team will rely on you to help them with ambiguous issues because you’re solving them all the time. You’ll gain respect and grow your area of influence.
Get Input with the Dumbest Choice
From time to time, you’ll encounter problems where you, or the team, are ambivalent about the choice. You can usually make the call and the day moves on. But, there will be decisions where there is no preference from anyone affected by the choice. Someone needs to pick something.
So I always choose to go to Mcdonald’s.
Ok, ok – that doesn’t make sense. Let me explain.
When I see a choice that affects an ambivalent group, I consider where to go for lunch. We’ve all been there – you’re with a group of friends, it’s time to eat, but the group can’t make a choice. So what happens when you say, “Let’s go to Mcdonald’s!”?
Everyone has an opinion.
I use this tactic ALL THE TIME. Making the worst choice guarantees two things:
- Getting feedback on your decision.
- Making a low-risk decision that’s easy to change. (Mcdonald’s is still tasty!)
So keep this tactic in your back pocket when encountering ambivalent situations. You, as the decision-maker, will get much-needed reactions when making the worst choice.
Leading people is a nerve-wracking experience at first. You make decisions every day that impact others. The scary part is you won’t see the impact for a long time.
But it’s your job to make the call.
To get comfortable with making decisions for the team, my advice is:
- Learn the problems that are your responsibility. These will often be the people-focused issues affecting the team.
- Make recommendations instead of always asking the team to make a choice.
- Make the worst choice for situations where everyone is ambivalent. People have a visceral reaction when having to go to McDonald’s for lunch.
These techniques will not only make you a more decisive leader. You’ll stop asking small questions.
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