Jeff Hough

Jeff Hough

Nike’s Just Do It slogan has inspired athletes for many years. It epitomizes the athlete mentality of getting off the couch and doing something. It is a wonderful catchphrase that is applicable in many aspects of life.

But, in the workplace, there is a similar phrase that has cost businesses thousands of dollars and man-hours. Recently, a client of mine shared a story of their leader using the phrase and the damage it caused.

Managers often use the phrase because they feel their time is more valuable than some else’s. They use it when they expect their people to understand what they are thinking and do it. Leaders use it when they have the wrong expectations for their people.

The phrase that’s responsible for lost hours and money is a simple four-word phrase. The phrase, “just figure it out” is at the core of weak leadership.

When one tells another to just figure it out, it sends a message of superiority. It says I am more important and smarter than you, and you need to catch up.

Some leaders hide behind the guise of using the phrase as a teaching tool. They think that by letting others struggle through a task, they are helping them learn and grow. In reality, just figure it out is a lazy way to lead and communicate.

While there may be some lessons learned from one struggling to figure something out. One should ask, how many of the lessons learned are the right ones? For my client, their biggest lesson was feeling marginalized and frustrated.

Upon completing their project, they returned to their supervisor for feedback. After reviewing the work, the supervisor began tearing it apart, pointing out each mistake.

The supervisor claimed to be trying to use the feedback session as a “teaching” moment. But as I thought about the situation, I couldn’t help but think about the negative lessons taught. There was no personal growth for the employee. In the end, resentment and distrust were the only things to come out of the situation.

In the end, my client calculated they spent three hours on the initial draft of the project. Then they had another hour of “constructive” feedback from the supervisor. Then an additional hour to get it right. A project that should have only taken two hours, turned into a six-hour debacle.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” This is sound advice for leaders today. In today’s fast-paced business world, many people don’t have extra time to waste. For many employees, figuring things out is a waste of their time and the companies’ money.

Yes, there are more resources than ever for someone to figure something out. Some managers expect their people to YouTube their way through projects. This thinking causes managers to miss out on a great opportunity.

One of author Stephen Covey’s core habits is beginning with the end in mind. Author Brené Brown uses the term “Paint It Done” to make the same point. This helps everyone get on the same page and understand what the expectations and processes are. It allows for questions to arise and communication to improve. It also leaves room for one to figure some things out on their own. But it gives them a clearer direction and confidence to proceed and make decisions.

While Just Do It is a fantastic slogan and mantra to live by, just figure it out leaves a lot out. People generally want to do good work and make their leaders happy. But having to figure things out on the fly adds a layer of difficulty to an already complex world.

Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.