Can your team breathe without you, asks Coach Cara Macklin

Cara Macklin, both an Entrepreneur and Coach, combines her hands on business experience gained from her previous role as the Director of the Award Winning Macklin Care Home Group, Malone Lodge Hotel and NI’s first Lifestyle Care Home with her professional coach training. As founder of Cara Macklin Coach, she helps successful leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit go from good to great through developing themselves, their team and ultimately grow their business.

Do you ever feel as the leader you’re the only one who finds the answers? People are coming with problems; the buck stops with you and you must find the solution. You’re so busy, yet there is a constant stream of questions, problems and queries coming. They land on your desk at the busiest and most inappropriate times, usually about 4.55pm on a Friday afternoon. I’ve worked with dozens of successful leaders and witnessed this so many times.

If only you could get people who could stand on their own two feet and think for themselves. Why do people always come to you with problems to find solutions? Have you considered maybe you have created this environment of dependence, and are continuing to pump out more oxygen to keep your team breathing?

Now imagine a different situation; it’s Friday afternoon and one of your team arrives into your office to tell you a major customer complained that week but they resolved the issue and the customer left very happy. So, how does a leader reduce the amount of oxygen they give and allow their teams to breathe strongly themselves without the organisation having a heart attack?

If I wasn’t here what would you do

When any new leader or manager starts one of the first things, I teach them the question, “if I wasn’t here, what would you do? Or what do you think would be the best idea?” When you witness the first time a new leader asks this, it’s amazing what happens. The staff look at the leader a bit like a rabbit in the headlights – are they trying to trick me, they’re the manager surely they know the right answer so why are they asking me? As a leader you want people to think of solutions for themselves in an unpressurised environment where you are there to support their decision. This is a continuous discipline as a leader, to build into every day one to ones to develop your team.

No one likes to give the wrong answer

At school we got told off when we gave the wrong answer. As we get older and move into the workplace, that just gets more difficult. So rather than making a wrong decision, I often witness team members make no decision, and wait to ask the leader. In my experience great people don’t want to let their leaders down by getting it wrong. In business we have heard many times, “if you never make a mistake you never make anything.” As a leader that’s easy to say, but hard to implement. Mistakes generally cost the business money whether it’s an unhappy customer or a project not completed on time. Encouraging a culture of openness and learning from mistakes creates safety and trust. This can start with the leader by sharing things they get wrong and what lessons to learn from it.

How to be in control without being controlling

Having witnessed many successful leaders, there is an art of being in control of your business and team without being controlling. This takes dedicated effort, discipline and continuous development as your business and team evolves and changes. A team who are controlled by their leader feel as if they can’t breathe and their ideas and decisions are stifled. As a leader, focus on the key decisions and factors that will make or break your business and never lose sight of this. Consider other areas that you are controlling and challenge yourself to start loosening the reins a little. Understanding when to use a directive style of leadership with your team and how to switch to a coaching approach is important and knowing the powerful questions to ask them so they can think and ultimately breathe successfully themselves.


There has never been a time where business is operating in an environment that is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The environment is ever changing, and what might have been the right solution a few years ago, may not be the best solution today. In my experience the speed of change within business won’t be sustainable if all the solutions come from leadership. Creating a culture of openness, proactive innovation and effective feedback is essential for sustainable growth and development.

How to prevent a heart attack

This usually happens when a leader is on holiday, or off for the weekend. Leaders create a situation where people are constantly asking for solutions because they’re scared to get it wrong, or just don’t know the answer. I’ve also often heard leaders say, ‘’it’s easier and quicker if I just do it myself, rather than getting the team to do it.’’ On one occasion a leader told me about a staff member who couldn’t deal with a customer enquiry that weekend. I asked what training the person was given, what experience they had on dealing with customers and what advice they were given on prices. The response I got was, “but dealing with new customers is my role.” As a leader, it’s your role to give your team the answers and the knowledge of the right way to do things, so that when you’re not there they don’t have to make a decision under pressure, and possibly get it wrong.

Is a powerful question better than the right answer?

This is a controversial question, and I’m often asked what the difference is between a mentor and a coach. One of the primary differences is that coaching draws out answers from within a person, whereas mentoring often involves putting in. A coach has learnt the art of powerful questions and intentional conversations to allow the person to come up with the solution themselves. A mentor has experience of the situation or business and gives the person advice or solutions on the best way forward. Simply put, coaching is based on asking, whereas mentoring is based on giving solutions. Great leaders use both these skills interchangeably to get the best from their teams and ultimately grow their business.

Oxygen is always needed

As a leader, reading this article, you may start to wonder if you implement all these things then maybe you’ll be out of a job as your team won’t need you. Just like we all need oxygen to breathe, there won’t ever be a time that a team doesn’t need their leader so don’t worry. But it’s a lot easier to pump in small amounts of oxygen more often, helping people get fitter and breathe stronger. We all know what it’s like going through a business crisis and putting the oxygen mask on. The less that happens, the better for you as a leader and the more your team develops and ultimately your business grows.

Contact Cara Macklin, [email protected] or for further information visit


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