Have you ever counted up the sheer number of questions you field each day as a leader? Or calculated the hours you sacrifice giving answers to ‘quick questions’? While being available for quick questions might seem like the WD-40 that keeps your agency running smoothly, it comes with its own set of hidden costs. Once you become ‘BossGPT’, the font of all knowledge at the end of a message request, you’re not only failing to add your full value to the business, but you risk undermining your team’s ability to think critically and solve problems independently. In essence, your well-intentioned accessibility could have long term detriment to you, your team and your business.

Bad for you, the leader

I’m sure many reading this will need little explanation of the impact of constant questions. Having questions ping through on Slack, or shouted across the room all day is exhausting and can increase the stress we are under. I speak to many agency leaders who describe the frustration of being under pressure to provide a constant stream of answers and decisions. The stress comes on multiple fronts too. Not only from the questions themselves, but the fact they detract from what we should be focused on as leaders. When our thoughts are interrupted it takes time to return to focus on our original task – putting us behind and putting us under more pressure to work faster (see The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress – Marks, Dudith & Klocke).

quality of decisions drops as quantity increasesAnother cost to us comes in the form of decision fatigue. Our brain is not a limitless resource that can work optimally all day. The fact that the more decisions we make in a day the harder subsequent ones become to make is well documented with often worrying consequences. As agency leaders, our poor decisions are less likely to be life-changing, but it’s still important to get them right. The likelihood of making good decisions increases when we have fewer to make in a day. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos goes as far as trying to limit himself to three decisions per day: “If I make three good decisions a day, that’s enough, and they should just be as high quality as I can make them”. Three might not be realistic for most of us, but it does make you realise the cost of being overloaded with questions and decisions.

So, if too many questions is bad for us, why do we make ourselves so available to our teams? Aaah… to help them of course. One problem:

It’s bad for our teams too

We can kid ourselves that we do it to help our employees, but it’s often a myopic view. Whilst our timely intervention might unblock their immediate work, it probably isn’t as helpful in the long run. Possibly even harmful.  Consider this slightly reinvented lesson: “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man a fish and he’ll ask you for another one tomorrow” (I’ll admit… RE wasn’t my strongest subject at school). When we provide easy answers we are depriving our employees of the opportunity to learn, grow and be better. We even risk making them more dependent on us, training them that the only way to find answers is to ask others. We’re also stifling innovation, always applying the answer we already know rather than seeking other answers and new thinking that could potentially be better.

Ultimately, it is bad for business

Anything that is bad for the leader and the employee is bad for the business, but there are more direct issues too. The time of our senior people is the most scarce of resources in people-first businesses like agencies. Having leadership answer a team question might seem faster, but could be an appalling use of that valuable resource if they could eventually have found that answer themselves. Particularly so when you consider the opportunity cost of the time lost to context shift. Ultimately though it becomes a barrier to scale. I’ve written here before about the communications explosion that comes as a business grows. Placing yourself at the centre of every decision creates a hard limit on how fast your business can move as it becomes more complex. To quote one of my favourite business books:

If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!
– Michael E Gerber – The E-Myth Revisited

How to stop being BossGPT

If some of the above seems familiar, and you are convinced that it’s not ideal, then you are probably wondering how to stop being your team’s answer engine. With that in mind, let’s explore some ways to break that reliance:

1. Set boundaries

The first step is to communicate the problem with your team and set some boundaries. You certainly don’t want to cut your team off from your expertise, but might want to limit it. A good way is to delineate time; either setting “office hours” where questions are encouraged or “focus time” when you don’t expect interruptions. Either way, clearly communicating the expectation is key. Making yourself available asynchronously also works. Turning off notifications for whatever channel questions usually arrive through and having the discipline to tackle questions at set times is an easy way to apply this.

2. Capture answers

Many questions surface time and time again. Capturing these questions and their answers in an internal knowledge base gives your team a new channel to find answers and can result in better answers too. See my thoughts on Building your business brain for other ways this can benefit you and your business.

3. Prioritise and filter

Encourage the team to categorise questions as “urgent,” “important,” or “routine,” to help you triage when time is short and the load is high. This will not only help you manage your time better, but also to focus where you can have most impact.

4. Empower and encourage

Encourage employees to think critically and solve problems independently. Provide tools and training no only in the craft of your business, but also in the soft skills that make individuals more valuable contributors. Build a culture of self-discovering and learning, calling out good examples and supporting those who demonstrate the principles.

5. Delegate

Identify key team members who can handle specific types of questions and concerns, and communicate this with the wider team. Make it clear when it’s appropriate to escalate questions to you. Doing this not only frees your time for higher value activities, but helps employees grow in to every more useful resources.

6. Coach and guide

Teaching frequent question-askers to find their own answers might take longer in the short term, but is an investment in your future. Asking where they could look for answers, who else they could have gone to and whether they could try to figure it out helps them find answers more independently in future and empowers them to do so.

7. Regularly review and improve

Take time to regularly consider how to make further improvements. What type of questions keep occurring? Who is asking them? Could they have been avoided? Are you truly supporting people to answer these questions for themselves? Ask all of these questions of yourself and of others in the organisation and looks for ways to improve.

What is your next step?

By making changes like these, leaders can break the pattern of being overly available and cultivate a more sustainable, empowered working environment. This will not only benefit you but also contribute to employee growth and make your business operate more effectively. What do you think? Are you encouraged to do anything differently having read this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on LinkedIn – just click the button below.