Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Great Questions

Great Results Begin With Great Questions ~ Joseph S Edwards

Do good managers do the work for their staff ? Or do they lead them to creatively think through the dilemma  so they can develop the right skills to problem solve going forward?

On Courage and Questions

In past posts I have talked about managerial courage , learning agility and now the 3rd part of this winning formula is the ability to ask good questions to get great results.

There are many reasons why people don’t want to ask questions.

  • The fear of looking foolish.
  • The fear of the manager thinking less of him or her.
  • Not willing to work through the tough stuff.
  • Lazy
  • They are particularly good at getting their manager to do their job.
  • And sometimes, they need a thinking partner to help them see the issue another way. They get stuck in their thinking and they need a fresh perspective.

What do you normally do when a  staff member or colleague comes to you and says “I don’t know how to do this. I need your help“.

  • What are they really asking?
  • How do you know what kind of effort or thinking they have used to get to this point?
  • Are they just wanting you to do their work?
  • Are they afraid of failing?
  • Is it dangerous for your staff to make mistakes?

Asking Good Questions

These are a number of questions that will help in your assessment of how you will answer the question posed. The results of each question will decide how you will approach the staff member in response to their question.

Regardless of the reason for the question, it always a good time to start asking good questions.

There are 2 different ways you can ask questions and they have completely different results. I will give you some quick tips to stay away from  the kind of questions that brings pessimism, stress, anger and resentment and how to pose questions that will lead to problem solving, learning, optimism and collaboration.

Limiting Your Problems:

1. Never start a question with “Why” This has a very strong overtone of judgment and you will find your staff member will start justifying their action rather than thinking through the process. Alternatives are “Can you tell me your thought process in this situation?”

2. Keep blame out of your question ie. “Who’s fault is this?”

Maximizing Your Results

An alternative is asking questions like these:

  • “What are the facts as we know them?
  • What is missing?
  • What are our next steps and who should be doing them?”

These are action questions that will encourage your staff member to look for remedies and not the CYA (Cover Your Behind) behaviour that is a giant waste of time.

Handling Feelings

I am not suggesting there are not times when a staff member will do things that defies logic and makes you feel crazy, however allowing those feelings to surface at that time does not benefit anyone.

During these times it is best to give yourself a necessary break and tell the staff member to come to your office in 20 minutes to discuss next steps. This will give you a cooling down time and allow you to plan your questions to hold the staff accountable in a way that is productive.

If you teach your staff how to ask good questions through modeling your behaviour, you will find their  problem solving capabilities will soar. Is this something you would like to see happen? Once these skills have been integrated into your culture the impact is phenomenal. Can you imagine a time when your staff will be able to lead each other through this process, which frees up your time significantly.

Judy Mackenzie is Principal at TEVO Consulting Inc.
She helps with transformational change through leadership and team coaching
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Leadership Courage: Your Formula For Success

Leadership Courage

Leadership Courage…

Have you heard this term before? It is one of my favourites from a leadership perspective.

It is a learnable competency that is in great demand,  yet I often find myself coaching to this area because business schools don’t teach the steps to leadership courage.

Leadership courage is so very teachable and so very necessary for leaders to be successful and enjoy their jobs.

Lacking Leadership Courage

Let me describe what it looks like when you don’t have it.

  • Unwilling to take a strong stand when one is required.
  • Can’t give tough feedback, would prefer someone else do it or use an email to deliver the message.
  • Gets overly anxious about presenting a tough position.
  • Unwilling to step up to issues.
  • Let’s other people take the lead with the hope that they will not make a mistake or be challenged.
  • Is overly differential to authority.
  • Is a conflict-avoider and not willing to take the heat when necessary?
  • Very afraid to make a tough call.

Does this sound like anyone you know? How did so many managers get promoted and have this issue. I suspect that leadership programs that are not action learning-based do not give the coaching support that is necessary to change this type of deep behaviour concerns.

There is also the danger of promoting leaders because of their technical skills and not their demonstrated leadership skills.

Why don’t they teach this stuff in school?

Think About This

Think about the past 2 years and all the business challenges we have had from the economic meltdown and imagine how often managerial courage is what was needed to get you through the day with integrity and honesty.

Unfortunately, I have heard too many stories about how managers hid out in their offices, stop talking when they should have started, and spent way too much time worrying about issues that should have been dealt with.   Much of the leadership coaching that I do focuses on strengthening this competency and being very mindful of not overusing it.

All good things must be done in moderation and leadership courage is no exception. When this skill is overused it becomes very problematic and can look like this;

  • Overly critical with little to no praise or positive feedback.
  • “Bull in a China Shop” syndrome. You say what is on your mind regardless of how it might impact the listener(s).
  • You take on every battle rather than choosing carefully your areas on which to focus.
  • Always looking at the negative side.

See what I mean, when the strength becomes the weakness?

Make Sure of This

Now for a few ideas to work on while you are assessing your own managerial courage.

  • When you have a tough conversation to your future, prepare, prepare and prepare.
  • Make your points very succinctly and do not deviate from your plan.
  • Make sure you know exactly what the message is and ensure that you have your details clear.
  • Remember if it is tough for you to say it will be tough for someone to hear, so don’t go into too much detail.
  • Make your point and do it without drama, anger, or condescension.
  • Leadership courage looks for solutions not destruction, so be sensitive without being distracted and confused.
  • Make sure you plan. Planning will help greatly with that.

Don’t Be Frightened

When there is an issue that generally gets you into turtle mode, ask yourself the following questions.

What about this issue bothers me?

  • What is the best/worst thing that can happen?
  • When you answer what the worst thing that can happen is, has that ever occurred or is this part of your fear that is not based on experience?
  • How would having this conversation make you feel?
  • Think about a time you did deal with an issue and nothing bad happened. What did you do and how did you prepare?
  • Can you do this again?

Be Open to Learn

Most of my clients realize after some initial exploring that they have been successful in most areas at some point in their lives. But, unfortunately, fear has a tendency to wipe out memories of success by devouring the good. To combat this, ask yourself good questions and be open to learn.

Leadership courage is a great place to start as the payoffs are immediate!

Judy Mackenzie is Principal at TEVO Consulting Inc.
She helps with transformational change through leadership and team coaching
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog

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Leading In Dangerous Times

Imagine This:

You have just moved into a new leadership role. One that is bigger, more exciting, and brings with it a great title in a fresh new company. Change is good, right? You have worked so hard for this promotion and your “Bring-It” adrenaline is running at an all time high. Life is Good!

During the interview process to get the new position you gained some understanding of what your new company is good at and what they are struggling with. You are feeling confident that you can make the changes needed to move your new company along their stated strategic path.  The technology is exciting and you can see how your new company is poised for greatness. You are so excited to be a part of that. So, you start your new journey with optimism and energy.

On your first day you are meeting the key stakeholders that will be part of your success going forward. As your ears are perched to hear the exciting new things you will be encountering, they pick up a vibe when others begin to talk that wasn’t present before. You are starting to hear some different stories about the current challenges that didn’t surface in the interview process. This new tone and new revelations are a little concerning, however you stay calm because everyone is so glad that you are here and is ready to get you up and running. They actually have been anxious for you to get into the role to make some highly needed changes for the organization. Life is still good…

Times… They Are Quickly Changing

But with the new revelations and undercurrents that exposed themselves very early on, you are beginning to feel the pressure for your new role that was not expected. And it isn’t even close of business on the first day. Those faint alarms bells that began to sound in your head in the beginning of your day are now starting to get a little louder. As your fist day ends, you realize that things may not be what you once expected them to be. Life is hopefully still good…

Feeling Like a Leader?

Because of the new onslaught of unexpected challenges, you go home after your first day exhausted, a little agitated, but definitely energized. Your plan of assessing the workplace for a least one week is starting to look like a pipe dream. There are just so many issues that need to be addressed quickly and you really want to make your mark right out of the gate. You may begin to wonder if your quest to put your leadership stamp on your new role will come to fruition in the time frame you had in mind. So far you have been able to contribute to a couple technology issues and you think that you have shown some good leadership skills by taking charge. But doubt seeps in.

So you ask yourself:

“Are my leadership strengths noticed? Will I make my mark in time to stay credible? How can I show my talent in such an environment of challenges?”

Does this sound familiar? By the end of the first week you are starting to feel quite overwhelmed with the challenges and the lack of time to put everything in perspective. So what do you do now? Is there a better way to transition in a new leadership role? Is it more about intentions, or is it more about effective planning?

The road to ruin is paved with good intentions.

Transitioning In a Better Way

Let’s just step back  for a minute and  look at some steps for a transition plan that might make more sense of your first 90 days and increase dramatically  your personal and professional  success rate. This will help you swim safely when the sharks appear in your pool.

360 Degree Feedback

  • Do you know what are your strengths and your development opportunities (aka: weaknesses)?
  • Have you been brave enough or had the opportunity to  take advantage of a 360° feedback process?
  • Are you clear on what you bring to the table?
  • Do you choose your next role and not be one of the >50% of transitioning leaders who fail in their first year.

Using  these types of assessments can be the single most effective method to get you on the right leadership  development track. Many of us have blind spots that can derail our plans and seat us squarely on the bench. There are many good 360° assessments instruments on the market that can be a great practical guide to what you are good at and explain what you need to work on.  It is so important to know this to make sure that you are leveraging your strengths and planning actively to deal with development challenges.

Get a Map

Make sure you take advantage of the time before you start your new role to get the lay of the land. Use the human resources group, customer and employee survey data, communications, marketing and any other group that can give you information about the functioning of the organization.

Set Expectations

Develop a solid relationship with your boss that includes establishing a set of clear expectations for you and your boss. This is the time to practice clear communication skills and much of that will be accomplished through active listening.

Be Wise

Get your information from a variety of sources to make sure you don’t become isolated through the opinions of a select few in the company. These are good political moves that will pay large dividends down the road. Be very careful if you are feeling recruited by a person or group and make sure you understand their motivation.

Be Patient

Don’t try to do too much too soon as that could be seen as “knee jerk.”  This is not a leadership competency that is valued in the long run.

Be patient; show restraint; and measure your words twice before you cut them loose from your tongue.” ~Tom Schulte

Look Forward

When you are speaking of your earlier companies, be very careful not to give the impression that you are attempting to recreate your past company within your new one. Bringing your whole team from a previous employer has a number of warning bells attached to it. This is not a good thing.

Transitioning into a new role is exciting and dangerous at the same time. The bad news is that there are lots of land mines to fall on and  the good news is there are ways to avoid these potential fatal obstacles and carry out your leadership goals.

Are you ready to listen to constructive feedback? Can you control your ego to see when there is smoke being blown up your kilt?  Can you map out a successful plan in your next transition so that your leadership skills can shine when it is time? Can you listen like your life depends on it? Hopefully you can: because your professional life does depend on it. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your suggestions for leading in dangerous times.

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Judy Mackenzie is Principal at
TEVO Consulting Inc.
She can be reached at judy.mackenzie@shaw.ca

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