I recently attended a driver education class with my 15-year-old daughter. It was the first class and the kids had to bring a parent or guardian. The program was introduced and there were lots of questions from the audience.
Sometimes the parents asked the questions for their kids; sometimes the kids asked the questions for themselves. I noticed that if the parent was asking questions, their kids often appeared disengaged and uninterested, whereas if the kids were asking their own questions, they were tuned in to what was going on.
As the teacher moved away from Q&A and took us through some learning modules, the same level of engagement remained. In my mind, the parents who had the attitude: “I am here with you to support you, but you will pass or fail this course by your own actions and efforts,” had much more interested and engaged kids. Those who had the attitude: “I am going to make sure you pass this course!,” had much less interested and engaged kids. I knew the difference strictly from who asked the questions during the Q&A—the kid or the parent. There was one boy I really felt sorry for whose mom was asking way too many questions. Each one seemed to cause him to sink an inch lower in his seat. It was funny, I confess, but also a bit sad to watch.
The same impact on engagement happens in the workplace. If we as leaders try to take the responsibility for success or failure away from our staff, they will go into “just doing what they are told” mode and sink in their chairs just like that boy I saw. To avoid this, we need to lay out the big picture, give people the resources they need to get the job done, and be prepared to let them ask their own questions and find their own path. We can coach and support along the way, but we must have the attitude that they own the success or failure. If you act this way as a leader and you have the right people in place, they will rarely disappoint. You will see improved performance and enjoy the personal satisfaction of people thriving under your leadership. For me, there is no better feeling.