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I've got an intern and few a juniors I supervise and I'm having a hard time balancing mentoring them and teaching them to stand on their own two feet. On one hand I want to provide avenues for them to be successful by ensuring they know the systems they are working in, proper workflows, and helping them along with problems when they request support.

However I've noticed the more I provide assistance, the more they request help and furthermore in the case of the intern it seems the things I teach them go in one ear and out the other. I don't want this to become an issue with my management perceiving that I am wasting my time. What can I do to kindly nudge the people I supervise to become more self reliant?

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  • Help them develop a note taking system. – user8365 Jun 1 '15 at 19:58
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Short answer: Teach your people how to solve problems, not tell them the answer.

I have been in this exact situation a number of times over the years. If I allowed them to, the junior staff would have consumed all my time helping them solve their problems. What I did was to show them the steps I went through to find the solution, rather than just tell them the answer. Of course they will keep coming back to you as they do this the first few times, but this should lessen as they gain experience.

You can then slowly wean them off asking you for help because instead, you can direct them to say, "How have you tried to resolve this? Is this a similar problem to what you have tried to solve before? How did you solve that problem?" They can then go off and try to work their way further through the problem, and hopefully start to understand how they are working through it.

It's very much like teaching a person to fish. You will find you can slowly wean them off being dependent on you and learn to be self reliant by understanding the problem solving process. And that will give you some very valuable resources in future! :)

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If someone comes to me and asks for help over an issue they have seen before, then I tell them to sit back, relax and I ask them how did we handle that issue the last time. I expect the intern to remember the key details and go over with me about how they handled it. I fill in whatever blanks are needed and once I am confident that they know what they have to do, I tell them to get out of my office :)

The first time, I may or may not hand in an answer, all tied up and gift-wrapped. The second time we run into the same issue, I make them work at getting the answer.

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You are in a mentoring/training relationship. There is no one right way to handle this situation, and there are no simple answers for HOW to do it effectively.

You might be successful with the advice given here, or you might find some other way to do it. Whatever the case, this is NOT an easy endeavor. It should be taken as a serious part of your daily work, not as some side-task where you can simply apply a few tips and tricks. In other words, it WILL take time out of your day and you must factor this into your other responsibilities. You basically have to carve out significant chunks of time and effort to do this right.

The good news is that training people can be highly rewarding to you personally, to the organization and to the students.

Pedagogy (teaching) requires the teacher (you) to evaluate the students and to take different actions depending on this evaluation. If you haven't taught before now would be a good time to research into it and start practicing this stuff.

There's no magic ratio of "spoon-feeding" to "self-reliance". If you think that your students aren't absorbing the information you're giving them, there could be any number of reasons for that: perhaps they need more practice? perhaps the information was not presented correctly? perhaps they don't have enough context? Whatever the case, you have to find out what the real problem is and address it (and no, the problem is NOT usually that the students are dumb or lazy).

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