Four simple words

to transform how you show up as a leader


Published on: October 2023

Written by: Laura Fay

Early in your career, your ability to acquire technical knowledge and quickly demonstrate it is what made you a top performer.

But, as the old adage says (and I quote Marshall Goldsmith), “What got you here won’t get you there.” In other words, later in your career, moving fast and having all the answers is actually detrimental to your executive presence and your ability to motivate and engage others.

First, raise your hand if you identify with any of the following statements:

  • I have a high capacity for work and move faster than those around me.
  • I often know the right solution well before the team reaches the logical conclusion.
  • My action bias is one of the reasons why I am so productive – it’s one of my best qualities.
  • I know I need to pull others into the discussion, but I get frustrated when it slows down the process.
  • I have a lot of ideas and solutions to problems that I tend to share quickly and often.
  • I’ve been told that I get noticeably agitated or short when I feel things are not happening quickly enough.
  • I feel as though I can help guide the team to the right answer when they get stuck.

And to take it one step further – sometimes best-laid intentions can be your greatest leadership derailers.

  • “I want to be helpful.”
  • “I want to move the conversation along.”
  • “I need to get the team focused.”
  • “I need to solve problems quickly.”

These moments can present a real crossroads in your professional development journey, and admitting you have a problem is the first step toward growth. When you recognize and harness restraint, create space for others, and shift the role you play in the discussion, suddenly the game changes.

How do you get there? Flip the script! Instead of coming up with solutions, push yourself to ask guiding questions. The most critical question: How can I help?

These four key words will help you turn the traditional top-down leadership approach on its head. Rather than jumping in with your own ideas or constructive feedback about why or why not an idea won’t work, asking how you can help opens the door for your team to speak up, learn, and grow. Holding this space for your team not only helps them to develop, but brings forth the new, unusual, and sometimes groundbreaking ideas that can transform your business. Imagine how your interactions, team decisions, leadership, and employee engagement will change if you begin asking instead of solutioning.

Case in point

A senior leader in the consumer goods industry was working on her executive presence. Her fast-paced style often left others feeling like they were constantly trying to catch up. She created the sense that she wasn’t open to others’ perspectives – even though that was quite the opposite of her intent.

Despite wanting to help the team move forward by providing solutions – in reality, she took up so much airtime that others felt there wasn’t room for them to introduce new ideas or debate. This leader needed to shift her approach. She needed to move from being a “problem solver” to a “solution facilitator.” How? By asking that simple question, “How can I help?”

When she started asking questions rather than offering solutions, she began putting some of the control back in the team’s hands. In doing so, she shifted the power dynamic within her team and leveled the playing field, allowing more diverse ideas to surface, which ultimately resulted in higher team engagement.

If you are a leader who quickly jumps in to solve problems, give this one small behavior shift a shot. Ask, How can I help? And then LISTEN. You might be surprised at what you get in return.

Ready to start a conversation?

Want to know how BTS can help your business? Fill out the form below, and someone from our team will follow up with you.