Ask Questions—Don’t Demand Answers

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Excerpted with the permission of the author from Chapter One of “Start Smart – Finish Strong” by Rebecca Morgan.

Contrary to popular belief, great leaders don’t have all the answers—but they do ask the best questions. The best coaches develop strong thinking skills in team members, all by stimulating the right kind of conversation.

With that in mind, have you ever said to your employees, “Don’t bring me a problem unless you also bring me a solution”? This is a relatively common management philosophy, intended to create accountability among employees. But there are two significant downsides to this leadership approach.

First, it encourages employees to delay bringing attention to problems. Second, when employees do acknowledge a problem, it encourages them to suggest the first solution that comes to mind.

Employees can usually develop better solutions to problems than management can, if only because they’re closer to the issue. Speed is important, but developing a solution that will actually solve the problem—and not merely apply a Band-Aid—is more important.

As the leader of your company, it’s up to you to make problems a comfortable part of the conversation. A few easy questions can ensure that a valid problem-solving culture is developed, from the top down:

  1. “What evidence do you have that you’ve correctly identified the problem?” We all have opinions, but they bring little value. We need facts. Yes, education improves thinking, but its downside is making us think we know more than we do. As an effective business leader, it’s your job to insist on facts, not anecdotal stories or opinions. 
  1. “What other options did you consider?” Ask this question as you discuss the employee’s recommended solution. Many of us jump to conclusions. The odds of jumping to the best and most permanent solution straightaway are poor. By forcing the consideration of two or three different options, you’ll help your team develop better solutions.
  1. “What did we learn?” This last question can be asked at any stage of problem-solving, but it’s best to ask it after the selected countermeasure has been implemented. Most people don’t think about learning. They’re only concerned with making the bleeding stop. This is your opportunity to force thinking and capture learning.

There’s always more than one approach to solve a problem—and the coach’s initial approach might not be the best one. Always listen, question, reinforce learning from failure, and take great pride in the development of your team members. Don’t simply demand answers.

Rebecca Morgan is the President of Fulcrum Consulting Works, Inc. in Cleveland, OH. A 2017 inductee into the Million Dollar Consulting® Hall of Fame, Morgan has positioned mid-sized manufacturers for long-term success since 1990. Her thought leadership is expressed through consulting, writing, and speaking — the Johnny Appleseed of manufacturing operations strategic thinking.  You can connect with Rebecca @ fulcrumcwi.com You can purchase  “Start Smart – Finish Strong” by clicking “HERE!”

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