“What were the specific things your manager did that brought value to your problem solving and decision making?” I repeated. “We have already established that it is not barking orders, bossing you around or yelling at you when you screwed up.”
Kim had to think. She could easily tell me all the bad experience with previous managers, but, thinking about positive experience was much more difficult.
“There was this one time,” she started, “where I was working on a problem and I had no idea what to do next. After an hour thinking about it, I finally went to my manager, who I knew had all the answers. I expected to have the best solution right away, so I could get on with my job.”
“Apparently, that’s not what happened.” I said.
“Not at all. My manager asked me to describe the problem, asked me what I thought was causing the problem.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I agreed. “Your manager couldn’t give you the solution without understanding the problem.”
“Then, she asked me what the alternatives might be. She said I was closest to the problem, I probably had an idea how we might be able to solve the problem.”
“You said you had already been thinking about it for an hour and couldn’t come up with anything.”
“Yes, but that is because I was trying to come up with the perfect solution. My manager wanted a bunch of alternatives even if they weren’t perfect.”
“Since I wasn’t looking for the perfect solution, I had four or five things that might work or might not work.”
“So, my manager asked me, of all those alternatives, which had the best chance? Actually, I think they all would have failed, but if I put solution number two with solution number four, then it might work. So, she told me to go and try it, so I did and it worked.”
“So, your manager did not give you the answer. Didn’t tell you what to do, didn’t boss you around or yell at you?”
“Nope. Just brought value to my problem solving by asking questions.”