To Should, or Not to Should: That is the Question

Picture of Ken Larson

Ken Larson

Do you constantly instruct others that they “should do this,” or that they “should have done that?” If so, you’re a Shouldhead. But don’t worry! I can help you break that harmful habit.

More than ever before, high-performing employees want autonomy.

They want to think through the problem and offer a viable solution.

Guess what.
You can give them exactly what they want without changing your business model.

3 Tips to Avoid “Shoulding”

Believe in yourself as a leader:
Coach your team so that they feel confident enough to find and deliver viable solutions on their own! A good leader is not a taskmaster.

Develop your listening skills:
Evaluate and embrace alternative perspectives. You don’t want to “should” all over an idea that could have potentially streamlined a business process.

Don’t Fall Into this Pattern:
There are many leaders who swoop into meetings, “should” all over everyone and their ideas, and then fly away to “should” on other people. It’s the Shoulding Spiral (also known as the “seagull” approach to leadership).

When a leader “shoulds” on someone’s idea, that team member often interprets this feedback as an obligation to perform the task exactly the way the leader suggested. Then they complete the assigned project without implementing their own ideas and strategies.

In many instances, these employees have learned to ask instead of implement.

This doesn’t mean they can’t think about the problem and apply a workable solution. It just means they haven’t felt the freedom to do so. So if you offer them that luxury by default, your team has the opportunity to present more suitable and practical solutions to business problems.

When You Stop “Shoulding,” You Gain:

More time
Less “shoulding” allows more time for doing what you do best: leading.

More engaged and proficient employees
Employees will learn to “do” instead of waiting for you to tell them what to do.

A decrease in Shouldheads throughout the organization
A good leader’s behavior has a trickle-down effect. The more you’re listening, the more others are listening and following suit.

Increased trust in your employees.
The more you trust, the less you stress. This also supports a fantastic personal development strategy. With the pressure off the leader, you’re able to think about the bigger picture instead of struggling with the finer details that can hinder business growth.

Streamlined business processes
Other teammates can own a project, not just you. Help others develop their own leadership abilities!

A Success Story

I recently met with a CEO who allowed me to observe a company meeting for critiquing purposes. She confided in me beforehand that she tended to speak before she thought. She’d “should” all over the conference room without hesitation.

During one discussion, her body language alluded to an imminent “shoulding” session. But she looked at me, I shook my head, and she backed down.

After only a few seconds, her agitation subsided. To her surprise, the other team members felt comfortable tossing out their ideas. They eventually brought a solution to the table that she hadn’t even considered. Surprise! … It was the best one! She was overjoyed with the revelation that she could learn as a leader.

Like her, your goal is to guide others instead of  shoulding on them.
If you simply provide the solution without including the thought process that led you to it, your team can’t understand the process, the actions, or even the results. Worse yet… you enable their dependency on you. Do you want this?

As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

So, to give these employees the autonomy they yearn for, stop “shoulding” on them. The results will surprise you.

Can you think of any instances you’ve been a culprit of “shoulding”? What’s something you could do differently? Even if it’s simply learning to bite your tongue – that’s a great first step!

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