Hand Back the Pen

When others come to us with their problems, it is really easy to provide the solution. Learning to resist this temptation and instead help work out a solution and not take ownership is key to good parenting, friendship and leadership.

by Pete Ferguson

Today I look square in the mirror as I type. I am a self-diagnosed people pleaser who has to work hard at not assuming everyone else’s problems as my own.

I’m in recovery – have been in remission for years. But it takes a lot of work to stay sober.

What I’m talking about is staying in my own lane. Traditionally, when someone comes to me to discuss a  problem, I immediately go to work looking for a solution and start offering up the solutions before I completely understand it.

In the early years of marriage, this drove Steph nuts. According to “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus,” author John Gray describes this as a typical friction point between men and women. But in the workplace, I’ve seen (looking in the mirror here as well) this play out regardless of gender.

If you are like me, a good analogy helps better define the situation. Turning to another book, Multipliers, authors Liz Wiseman (should be Wise-Woman) and Greg Mckeown teach about how to become an “Investor” in others:

“When you see your team members are struggling, offer help, but have an exit plan . . .. Imagine yourself at the whiteboard, adding a few ideas to the collective thinking on the board. You finish your thought and then hand back the pen.” ~ page 191

In the workplace, it can often feel like timelines are too tight, the demands are too pressing and the temptation is to save time and hassle by just doing something yourself or directing others to do things your way.

But making that investment to allow others to struggle, learn, and grow – and take ownership of a problem and solution – has long term benefits. When I think of my mentors, they are always great listeners, they are heavily invested in me, but they refuse to own my problems. They instead talk it through with me, provide encouraging words, and then hand back the pen.

Learn: Pay attention to your language today to others – and your thoughts. When you hear a problem, do you want to jump in and fix it?

Act: Practice active listening. But in the process use the language: “I’m happy to help think this through, but I’m still looking to you to lead this going forward.” “I’m here to back you up. What do you need from me as you lead this?” (also on page 191 of Multipliers)

Share: Share you thoughts, but then give back the pen! And please share your comments below on how I can be a better “Investor” and not a detractor.

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3 thoughts on “Hand Back the Pen

  1. Amen, what a fabulous post that rang true to me. So much of my life has been putting out other people’s fires. I guess that I did it to get a pat on the back. Long after the pats on the back, I was left with a lot of bitterness and resentment. I have been working my way through that for a while.

    Thank you always for your inspiration!


  2. Pingback: Refiner’s Fire | learnactshare

  3. Pingback: Where Are We Going? | learnactshare

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