Stop Mediating

When smart people hear both parties separately and understand there’s a miscommunication, they can seldom stop themselves from intervening and helping them bridge the communication gaps. I have to fight this urge all the time when I’m sitting down at clients and interview several people.

When a VP Engineering proudly describes having helped two directors understand each other, I always ask–before celebrating–“why were you involved in the first place?”

Coaching is a great part of leadership, and that does not mean swooping over to save the day: helping angry people understand one another, translating needs, or playing referee. Coaching often means you need to know when to keep your mouth shut. You know that hero coders are terrible for your team’s health, but the hero leader is problematic just as well.

Keep your mouth shut. Learn to master the right questions instead of the “right” answers:

  • Why are you saying this to me and not to Alice directly?
  • What do you think you can do to get through to him regardless?
  • Do you believe this is one of the situations where you have to have a grown-up intervene?

If you continue to let these scenarios be on your plate, they will become, de facto, your problem. Assuming you have bigger fish to fry, improve your coaching skills to teach them how to manage these situations themselves. Set guidelines for when an escalation truly is needed, and make that the exception rather than the norm.

Free yourself from being an umpire and free them to solve their problems. Got it, coach?