Leadership Spotlight

Teachable Moments

A stock image of two business people working together on a computer.

Unfortunately, some leaders do not allow employees to complete their own projects. Maybe the following scenario sounds familiar:

I was at the computer working on an assignment. Everything was fine until I encountered a problem. After multiple attempts to resolve it, I asked my supervisor for help. He came over, looked at my work, and recognized where I went wrong.1 I expected him to guide me through the issue, but, instead, he asked to sit in my chair. I obliged, and he hit a few keystrokes. Then, he said, “There you go,” and walked away without explaining the problem or what he did to correct it. I still do not know what was wrong or how I can fix it if it happens again.

Have you witnessed this? Has it happened to you? If so, how did you address it? Or, have you been the supervisor in the scenario? 

When such situations happen, employees may wonder if the leader has a lack of trust or, perhaps, an inflated ego. Whatever the reason, completing projects for employees can hurt their morale and make them feel inadequate. This can be hard for the supervisor to remedy and toxic to the organization.

A leader’s job is to mentor and coach. Completing projects for employees accomplishes neither. In fact, it is the antithesis of mentoring and coaching. Helping personnel by offering advice and guiding their steps helps ensure employee morale remains high and future projects require less or even no assistance. Further, the leader will feel satisfied with the visual growth of their followers and, perhaps even more importantly, prevent a toxic office environment.

Leaders should mentor and coach people in their jobs, not do their work for them.

Dr. James A Perkins Jr., an instructor in the Leadership Education Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at japerkins@fbi.gov


1 Male pronouns are used for illustration.