Excerpted from “Just Ask Leadership” by Gary B. Cohen
If you’re like me, your ego propelled you into leadership. You used your creativity and resourcefulness to meet objectives. You asked questions only to accomplish a specific task. In general, however, your ego discouraged you from asking questions and disliked following orders. Egos want to achieve–on their own.
Egos also crave recognition. With each success, your career has progressed and your standing in the organization or community has grown. Your ego has grown, too. You tend to ask fewer questions and provide more answers. After all, others – even your boss, perhaps – come to you as an oracle. You likely feel, and are, in control.
Four-star General Jack Chain is a true leader. When he served as a staff officer in the Pentagon, his 10 year-old daughter asked him, “What do you do?” he thought for a minute and said, “I answer questions.” Later, when he made commander, his daughter asked how his new role would be different. His response: “Now I ask the questions.”
Here’s the paradox: egos can vault you into a leadership position, but as a leader you now must set your ego aside and relinquish control.
As a leader, your career advancement is no longer task-dependent. Leadership is about allowing others the chance to flourish.
You advance as a leader only when you place your coworkers’ egos above your own. And you do that, and convey that, by asking questions.
Gary B. Cohen is Managing Partner and co-founder of CO2 Partners, an executive coaching and leadership development firm, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He specializes in coaching entrepreneurs and often draws on his experience co-founding ACI Telecentrics, Inc. (with just $4,000), which he helped grow from 2 to 2,200 employees with 13 offices in the US and Canada. He attributes much of his success to asking questions—the foundation of his book Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions. Learn more at Co2Partners.com