How The Best Leaders Lead: With Questions

By 8 Apr ’16Blog

The age of telling, teaching and talking is over. We’ve stumbled into a new world where if you don’t know how to tap into the ideas and knowledge in the room, you’ll come up short.

For a long time, the corporate world has been driven by linear processes. Anyone who doesn’t follow the procedure gets axed. But what if there’s a better way? What if those on your team know how to do things better? How do you tap into that?

In my work with leaders and teams, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sighs of appreciation that I came listening and asking questions as opposed to primarily telling and teaching.

In times past, the teacher was the one who controlled the classroom. So too, in many organizations, the manager has ruled the team. The problem with this is that many managers got into management because they were good engineers or salespeople. They may not, however, have had the people skills to do well in their new management role. Consequently, folks end up in leadership positions who might be talented at specific tasks, but they may not have the people skills necessary to tap in to the power of the team.

This is the reason that leaders must become coaches. Coaches are thinking partners. They help those they serve tap into all the knowledge that’s already in there. And when the knowledge isn’t there they guide them to the people who have it. They have mastered the “ask” and minimize the “tell.” Is there a time to tell? Absolutely. But you can’t get to the tell until you’ve gone through the ask.

Our world has changed. No longer is all the knowledge in the hands of the manager, the teacher or highly educated. Knowledge is in the pocket of everyone who has a smartphone. If they want to know anything, they can look it up. The implications of this is that there isn’t much more to teach or tell. There is, however, enormous opportunity to guide those we lead to be faithful to the knowledge they have access to. This is why I say leaders must become coaches and learn how to lead with good questions.

This week I worked with a team near Los Angeles who invented and now support the amazing resource of The Atomic Clock. Pretty cool right? This is the clock by which all other clocks are set. This company has some pretty brilliant people in it. So who was I to tell them anything new?

As we worked through how to have effective team conflict, the manager asked me a question. “How do you think we need to grow in this area?” As much as I wanted to respond, I resisted and said, “let’s ask the team.” With that, I turned to the rest of the group and asked what they thought about how they needed to grow.

One of the team members answered simply, “We need to grow in our ability to compromise, but we won’t have the opportunity to practice compromise if we don’t collaborate. I think, therefore, we need to do more collaboration.”

It was an amazing insight I could have never thought up. How did it happen? I simply asked the team what they knew and then how they thought it should be implemented. This is what I mean when I say that leaders must become coaches.

If you think you are smarter than everyone else, you’re going to go through your career mostly alone, or at best, surrounded by people who are afraid to tell you the truth. However, if you can enter your leadership role in humility, the questions you ask will be the spark that lights the fuse of the amazing genius of your collective team.

Anyone who has been a leader of any kind or ever attempted to teach something can tell you that information rarely changes behavior. Rather, healthy communities change people. Whether you like it or not, your team is your community. Take a look at it. Is it healthy?

My challenge to you, as the leader, is to create a healthy environment for people. This means minimal politics and confusion and an environment where you facilitate healthy discussion through good questions followed by direct calls to action and predictable accountability.

I worked with a leader once who always said, “together we’re a genius.” He was right. By accessing the collective knowledge of your people, you not only will multiply your knowledge, but you will increase your ability to sustain momentum. Why? You tapped into the hearts of your people.

Need help in this area? Contact me.