How to Teach People to Think For Themselves

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Management comes with its fair share of annoyances, but perhaps the worst is the employee who just can’t seem to mentally engage.

You know the one—he requires constant attention, instruction, and micromanagement. He asks a seemingly endless number of questions and can’t make a decision to save his life. You’d love to simply pawn him off on another department but you’re far to professional for such underhanded moves.

So, how do you turn that needy employee into one who is self-reliant, independent and thinks for himself? Try these 3 strategies.
1. Don’t do the work for him. Yes, training takes time. It’s much faster and easier to just do it yourself or give the task to someone else. But that won’t give your employee the tools he needs to do the job in the future. Your role is that of a coach. When he needs assistance, don’t let him off the hook. Take a deep breath and walk through it step-by-step. Remember that some people need to experience things a few times before they catch on so be patient.

2. Ask questions; don’t answer them. Next time your dependent employee approaches you for instruction, pause and consider whether or not this is something he should be able to figure out on his own. If it is, don’t give the answer up immediately. Instead, guide him by asking questions like:

  •  What do you think the first step might be?
  •  What have you tried already?
  •  What would you suggest?
  •  If I weren’t here, how might you find the answer on your own?
  •  Walk me through your thought process…

3. Acknowledge the right behavior regardless of outcome. This employee is likely crippled by self-doubt. If and when he steps up and truly thinks and acts on his own, praise him for it—even if the result isn’t perfect. Then, guide him on where he went wrong and how to avoid that misstep in the future. Do everything you can to encourage the behavior you want to see through positive recognition.

Some employees need more handholding than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of thinking for themselves. They just need a push in the right direction. Help them break their bad habits by refusing to fall into those same habits. Don’t let them rely too heavily on you—or you may end up feeling more like a babysitter than a manager.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.