As a leader, you might often feel caught in the relentless pressure of the clock, where the need to deliver results quickly tempts you to skip over the seemingly small opportunities for development. It’s easy to think there’s just not enough time for development of people. However, micro moments of development add up, powerfully shaping the effectiveness of people over time.

Don’t let the illusion of “not enough time” lead you to overlook these opportunities. Embrace them. Each small interaction is a chance to build more capable team members.

Remember, consistently investing in these moments will not only enrich your team’s skills but also forge a path to achieving remarkable results together.

Here are five interrelated actions you can take today that will infuse development into the conversations you already have with your team. 

1. Resist the Urge to Immediately Direct

The initial reaction of many leaders, when faced with an issue, is to jump straight to “telling.” Though there are times for directives, they come at a price. Do you always want to be in “tell mode?” What might be the consequence of leading mostly from directives? 

Of course, directing is a natural response driven by the desire to fix problems quickly and efficiently. However, this approach often bypasses a crucial opportunity for development. By resisting the urge to immediately offer direction, you can instead create a space for people to navigate their own solution-making processes. This practice encourages autonomy and responsibility, fostering a sense of ownership over the work and the outcomes of decisions.

2. Use Questions to Evoke a Person’s Own Thinking

Well-crafted questions are powerful. They can transform simple conversations into rich, developmental dialogues. Instead of offering solutions, pose questions that prompt people to reflect on their challenges and needed solutions. This method helps to uncover the employee’s thought processes, revealing their assumptions and logic. Understanding the person’s thinking also gives you the opportunity to present alternative perspectives. This allows you both to push back and forth on ideas. Be careful, though. When you present alternative views, make sure you are doing so from a place of inquiry rather than direction. Through this inquiry-based approach, you encourage people to delve deeper into their reasoning, fostering a more profound understanding of their work and its challenges. It also fosters solution-based thinking – that is, you move from thinking for people to thinking with people. 

 

3. Let the Person Share Their Thoughts and Challenge Their Thinking Through True Dialogue

True dialogue is characterized by openness, respect, and a genuine exchange of ideas. Dialogue provides an opportunity for you to challenge people’s thinking – not by declaring it “wrong” but by exploring its depth and validity. This approach requires active listening and a willingness to engage in a conversation where you both learn from each other. By allowing people to share their thoughts freely and without fear of immediate correction, you nurture a culture of trust and intellectual curiosity.

When hurried, it will be easier for you to step on a person’s ideas and words. This will eventually send messages of indifference or intolerance. When you allow people to share their ideas, you create a space for this ideas to be examined and improved. There is nothing wrong with positive challenge of ideas. But when it’s done in a hurried or frenetic way, people feel discounted and that will stop the flow of better ideas.  

4. Get People Thinking About the Implications of Their Behaviors or Ideas

We all make mistakes. At times, those mistakes need correction. However, how that correction is done makes all the difference for development. Understanding the consequences of one’s actions or proposals is a critical aspect of professional development. You can facilitate this awareness by guiding people to consider the broader implications of their behaviors or ideas. This might involve discussing potential outcomes, both beneficial and not, and encouraging people to think several steps ahead. By doing so, you  help people see beyond the immediate context, fostering a strategic mindset and a deeper appreciation for the impact of their work.

Thinking through implications is also powerful because it is a way to examine past and future behavior. Reflecting on the past provides a person the ability to turn past actions into a kind of case study on their work and contribution. As a leader, it gives you  an opportunity to turn a difficult situation into a learning event. Mistakes are powerful and can be powerful learning tools when navigated with thoughtful reflection. Reflecting on the future allows you, as a leader, to think with your people about possible scenarios and actions that could shape the future. This will help your team members develop the skill of foresight – critical to any organizational endeavor. 

5. When You Need to Direct, Go for It, But Do It Mindfully and Not as Default

There are instances when direct intervention is necessary, whether for reasons of urgency, safety, or significant strategic importance. In these moments, it’s imperative for you to provide clear and concise direction. However, even in these situations, mindfulness is key. Take the time to explain the reasoning behind your directives, making it a learning moment rather than a mere command. This approach ensures that even when direct guidance is given, it contributes to understanding and development.

What Matters Most? 

Is anything above completely new to you? Earth shattering? Probably not. But here’s what is earth shattering: your ability to execute on these ideas comes down to how intentional you are in any given moment, meeting, or conversation. The five actions above are “mindfulness-dependent.” We must execute them in the moment when they are needed. This requires that we develop strategies to disrupt our inertia and insert new or needed behaviors when they can make the biggest difference. As much as the five behaviors are important, a deliberate approach is what makes the difference.  

By adopting strategies that foster micro-moments of development, you can cultivate people that are not only more engaged and proactive but also more capable of navigating the complexities of your unique context. Through thoughtful dialogue, inquiry, and mindful direction, you can transform conversations and meetings into a powerful engine for growth, solution-making, and sustained success.