As a first-time technical leader that is dividing his time between teaching and managing and also working on my own assignations I'm having a hard time handling certain situations, all of my subordinates are in a learning process and little working experience so I try to be as understandable as I can be with them. So far I have tried to assist them and encourage them to investigate as much as possible, but earlier today on of them asked for my assistance when I had time, but I told him an alternative route for achieving the process, and that I currently couldn't help him, but I think I was a bit rude with that answer as I clearly stated 'today I'm not able to help you'. I don't want to be that "order and leave" kind of boss, but my time for helping them is really undetermined. What's the best way for handling this kind of situations?
In any other situation where you're overloaded, I hope you know what to do: prioritise the most important stuff, and ask for permission (or maybe forgiveness) from the people who's stuff you've just de-prioritised. Therefore you apply the same logic here:
- Is the work your subordinate is needing help with critical? If so, you help them out and manage the fall out from de-prioritising your other work.
- If it's not critical and you can help them tomorrow, then tell them that - "Sorry, I'm a bit busy at the moment. Can we get together first thing tomorrow morning to discuss this?". The important point here is you're not just saying "go away", but instead giving a time when you will be able to help - present solutions, not problems.
And of course make sure that you communicate with the appropriate stakeholders so that everybody knows what's going on, and be prepared to change your views on what is a priority if your manager tells you so.
I don't think its rude to state you are busy for the day and to recommend a different approach for them to tackle.
If you are not completely strapped for time you might want to set aside 30 min or so to check up on people to see if they need assistance on something.
Your answer to his request for help seams completely acceptable to me in that situation. I would have said something like: "Try this idea first and and if you cant accomplish your goal that way come back and we can set up a time for us to take a look at it."
I find scheduling people for 30 min on a calendar is very helpful as you can tackle several problems at the same time in a one on one kind of situation.
You set an appointment for when you talk if you can't right that minute or refer them to another person who can. However as a lead, you need to look at your priorities. Your development tasks should not take precedence over helping your team, that is almost always your higher priority. Otherwise you are a roadblock. As a lead, doing development is no longer your main priority, management is