I have been spending a lot of time with leaders recently talking about their questioning skills. Currently, I have a large project that is focused on customer engagement, and what strikes me is how quick and easy it is for managers to ‘tell’. They want to focus on either:
(a) Telling me what they’ve done to resolve the issue (like that’s going to happen in three minutes flat)
(b) who they moved in or moved out of the business so that their challenges around engagement will now go away.
My question is: ‘what’s stopping you from being more curious about this situation?’
It seems to me that as children, our curiosity is on turbocharge. We don’t know so much and so we ask endless questions. But what happens when we ‘grow up’? As professionals and as leaders, why do we stop asking questions and why do we think we must always have a quick and ready answer? I used to work for a boss who endlessly said that the difference between managers and leaders was that managers had all the right answers, and leaders had all the right questions. Leaders who have ‘executive presence’ ask brilliant questions regularly.
1. Why are we doing this? In the words of Simon Sinek “your people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Leadership is an inspiration business. Our people aren’t inspired to make a profit. Rather, profit comes as a result of inspirational leadership. So that means engaging our people, our customers, our shareholders around a vision, so that they buy into something bigger, better, and more meaningful. When we do so, we can achieve extraordinary things.
2. Who’s doing this best? This is all about un-ending curiosity to find and learn from the very best. Are we looking outside of our business, and perhaps our industry, to see what we can learn from others? Wheel re-invention is over-rated. We need to consistently seek out those who are better/best and learn.
3. Who’s challenging my thinking? Great leaders surround themselves with people who challenge. However, it takes courage for our people to do so and it is a reflection of our style if the answer to this question currently is ‘no-one’. Have we created a culture where they are frightened of us? Or do we have mainly ‘B’ players within our business? Or, am I not doing a good enough job in terms of attracting the very best talent in the market?
4. What are my values? People join organisations and leave managers – and they do so because their values aren’t aligned with ours. Do we live my values in our behaviours every day? Do we do so intentionally? If answers are sketchy then the answer is ‘no’ and our people don’t ‘get us’ properly. We need to be consistent and intentional in order to be credible.
5. Have I done my best work today? This is about self-care, energy, drive. Paying attention to ourselves and how we are as leaders is essential to being effective. If we haven’t got enough exercise, sleep, water, fun, relaxation, laughter etc. in our lives, then our resilience is eroded by the sheer pace and demands of working life – and consequently both ourselves and our people suffer.
6. How am I spending my time? The single most consistent reason I hear for my clients not achieving what they set out to achieve is the lack of time. Everything about time is a choice. How we choose to spend it (like money), tells the world all that we care about. We can say that we care about our people, but if we don’t spend the right amount of time with them then we don’t care enough. If we believe that we haven’t got time to complete a certain task, then what we’re really saying is that we don’t care enough about it to make time for it. Regularly reviewing and auditing our calendar and our operational rhythm is an essential best practice.
7. Who have I caught ‘doing something right’? All too often it’s easy to get absorbed by what’s not working. Finding and celebrating success with our people by giving them feedback which is meaningful, authentic and inspiring drives engagement, productivity and performance off the chart.
8. How strategic am I being? Successful leaders have a strong operational focus and execution bias because of a fast paced business environment. However, if we don’t make enough time to be more strategic, challenging, disruptive and creative in our longer term thinking, then we will falter and so will our teams and our business.
9. What do I need to let go of? One of the tasks I set my clients is to delegate 30-40% of their role per year, so that in less than three years they are redundant in their current role. Why? Because we need to stretch and develop our people to enable them to step up, plus the business will be so transformed within that time that our skills and our talents will need to evolve to meet that. We can’t progress if we’ve not invested sufficient effort in evolving our teams and if we don’t do that, then we are already out of touch and out-of-date.
10. What do I need to develop? I am always curious about how comfortable leaders are. If we feel comfortable, then it’s time to make a change. Whether that’s a new role, a new opportunity, a new project or new responsibility, we need to stretch and extend our capabilities so that we feel uncomfortable. That’s where we learn and grow, and that’s when we need the right resources around to help us on that journey.
So, which questions do you need to ask more of today?
Sarah Brummitt is a pioneer in the field of executive presence and personal branding. She works with leaders around the world helping them to enhance their influence and effectiveness in a fast paced, attention deficit, global business world. You can connect with Sarah @ SarahBrummitt.com or on Twitter.
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