Early in my career, like most new managers, I thought I needed to have all the answers for my team. It was an old school way of leading and mobilizing the troops. Finally, I had a leader who showed me another way (thank goodness!) and the power of leading through questions.
When Laura set a meeting for the two of us to scope out the next phase of work, I was ready. Notebook in hand, we headed up to a conference room with a big whiteboard. The two of us sat at the table; I looked at her, she looked at me and asked: “Okay, what’s next?”
I waited for her to start telling me her answer to her question. It had to be rhetorical; a kind way to open the conversation and a signal for me to be sure my pen was ready to start scribbling furiously, but she didn’t say a word.
“What do you think?” she queried again.
I had a bunch of ideas but knew that she had far more experience in the area than I did so I thought out a weak response like, “We have a lot of choices. What do you think?”
She wasn’t taking my cue. She pushed further: “Let me hear some of your ideas.”
Over the course of the next two hours, we played ping pong. We bounced ideas off of each other not as leader and subordinate but as colleagues focused on a shared goal. (Isn’t that how it should be?)
She didn’t let me off the hook either. Not only did she ask me questions again and again but also resisted the urge to start speaking and fill the silence. It was one of the first times I remember making the transition from manager / do-er to leader / think-er. Thanks to Laura and her questions, I found that I too had ideas, insights and experience worth sharing.
If you’re stuck in the mode of telling your team what to do because they need the direction, challenge yourself to take a step back and make the choice to lead through questions.
Ask and give people a chance to think before they respond (don’t fill the silence)
Don’t judge their answers; play yes AND instead of yes, BUT
Assume that the people on your team are smart and capable because they ARE
Give them a chance to lead the way forward
20 Questions to Ask Your Team This Week and EVERY Week
In no particular order…
- How can I help?
- What do you think?
- What needs to happen next?
- What should we do?
- What do you need to do?
- What’s possible from here?
- Who do we need?
- How can we take it up a level?
- Where are we now?
- How far have we come?
- What do you need from me?
- What’s missing?
- What can we use that we already have?
- What else?
- Where do you need me?
- What’s in our way?
- What’s the cherry on top?
- What scares you?
- How can I clear the path forward?
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