Management Matters: Stop Managing the Employee Help Desk

The biggest error leaders make -- no matter the industry, level, or years in the job -- is thinking that they need to have all of the answers. While many like being through of as an invaluable resource, it can soon become a trap, ensnaring the manager into a 24-hour help desk’ kind of position. It prevents employees from developing problem solving skills and independence.They learn there is no real need for those skills, because the manager is on-call.

If you want to get the job of ‘getting work done through others’ accomplished, you need to engage your employees so that they feel valued and that their ideas for solving problems have a place to land. Sure, you can give them applause and ‘atta boys’ and ‘atta girls,’ providing clear and concise direction, but that isn’t a strategy to engage them and foster independence and problem solving skills. You still end up being the one with the answers. The best way to show people that they are important and valued is to ask for their input when you are problem solving, listen and then let them execute the strategy with your feedback and support.

The job of the manager is to facilitate the development of others, not just make decisions and assign work. As the boss, you are not the one to whom all problems should come for solutions. You are one who is supposed to develop problem solvers.

If you think that a great manager is to the person to come up with the best solutions, think again!

Ideas for Developing Good Problem Solving Skills in Others:

• Know how your employees differ. Ask them to describe their ideal manager to learn who wants firm direction and who wants more; then treat them accordingly. Assess their learning and personality style. Preferences and styles matter. They aren’t like you and probably aren’t like each other either. Preferences matter.

• Ask more questions for employees who seek to be more involved. Ask them to come to you with options for solutions, not only problems. Ask them to help you understand how they came up with their answer so you can learn how their style of logic works.

• Ask more questions to find out what they think. Then be quiet and listen to what they have to say. Get comfortable with silence because many employees haven’t been asked what they think by people who truly listen. If you are repeatedly met with silence, give them time to think about things and meet later.

• Manage expectations by making your role clear. Make sure they understand the benefits of your taking a more facilitative and supportive role. Explain that you want to engage them and foster broader ownership rather than be the ‘one with all the answers.” This can require patience so be prepared not to rush in and return to your old role of problem solver if they are slow to step up.

• Hold regular one-to-one meetings and ask them what went well and what didn’t since your last meeting. Encourage them to think of at least 2 things they did that they are pleased about. When you move to what hasn’t gone well, use questions to encourage ideas for improvement out of them.

• Think strategically about which decisions you have to make and which decisions need to be drawn out of others. Give people a ‘heads up’ that decisions are coming and they you want them to have been thinking about solutions.

• Don’t keep all the ‘fun and ‘sexy’ stuff for yourself - delegate real developmental challenges.- 

Remember that one management style won’t work well for everyone. To manage people effectively, broaden your role as a manager to include being a catalyst and flex your style for the needs of different employees. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but when you see employees flourish and develop into problem solvers, you’ll have more time to do those things that only you can do and less time being behind the help desk.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 20 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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