The Socratic Method dates from the 5th Century BC. It is, in the words of Wikipedia, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. It is named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates and is introduced by him in Plato‘s Theaetetus as midwifery (maieutics) because it is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors’ beliefs, or to help them further their understanding.
Therefore, I submit that you shouldn’t tell your subordinates what to do but instead ask them what they think they should do and to explain their reasoning. This provides for learning, clearer communication and avoids misunderstandings.
Equally as important, it lets your employees express thoughts and insights based on their frontline experience that you may not be aware of, and which can be incredibly valuable.
When I was a partner at Lehman Brothers, a senior associate asked me how they could “make partner”. I answered: When you begin to act like one. More specifically, I suggested that when we returned from a client meeting that they didn’t ask me for what we should do, but rather that they consider the options for a few hours and then to come to me with their ideas and suggestions.
This approach not only resulted in far superior solutions than any ideas I might have conjured up on my own but also created a terrific dialogue and mutual learning experience.
One of my greatest thrills is when the most junior member of a team, a “rookie”, inquired: Why don’t we do it this way? Quite frankly because no one of the experienced members had ever considered it—and we all learned.
So, engage in a Socratic dialogue.