I was recently promoted to manage a team of 10 people. The team members are young, inexperienced and fresh out of college. I find most of them to be eager, but I am frustrated on a regular basis because they need an enormous amount of direction. I can’t just tell them the outcome I want — they need me to give them all the steps. I feel like I’m doing their jobs for them. How do I create a better culture of independent thinking?
There are two main reasons that most employees behave the way you described.
Before I address those reasons, I must compliment the way you framed the question, because your wording includes a big part of the answer. I am speaking specifically about your choice of the word “culture.” An old business cliché is “culture eats strategy for lunch.” This could be what’s happening in your department.
The first possible reason for their lack of independence could be found in the way you ask them to do assignments. You may need to reframe the questions you ask by embedding a high-standard, outcome-oriented expectation. I will give you a personal example. I am a college graduate, but I never made a decision to go to college. That may sound odd, but when I grew up, my parents never proposed the question, “Are you going to college?” They just asked, “Where do you think you will go to college?” That slight alteration in questioning produced a high standard in me and in my siblings about education.
The best part is that it eliminated the need to problem solve about an irrelevant topic. It was also an outcome-oriented question, not a process-oriented question. In other words, it was not, “How are you going to decide where to go?” A process-oriented question requires the team members to report details that may be irrelevant, which may be what you are experiencing.
By reframing the questions you ask your team when you give them an assignment, you will likely get them focused on the outcome being the priority, not the specific approach they take to get there.
The second possible reason for their behavior is that you may be accidentally producing a culture that creates the fear of making mistakes. Many newly promoted managers do this by overly criticizing the processes that their subordinates choose. It is important to build their confidence and to let them explore their own unique approaches to solving problems.
New managers are often promoted because they outperformed their peers. Naturally, this leaves the new manager feeling most confident with his own approach. It is usually experience that allows great leaders to let go and allow others to find answers their own way. Let them experience the highs and lows of their successes and failures, and you will begin to see an exponential change in their confidence and independence.
The last bit of advice I can provide on this topic is to embrace the virtue of humility. Leaders who possess humility can see what others can’t. Humility is like turning a light on in a dark room.
Catholic business consultant Dave Durand is online at