You are the leader of a team of 14! They are all in a large rowboat with you and your goal is to get that rowboat across the lake as quickly as possible. How many of them would you like to have row with you?
Might your answer be: “Of Course – All of them!”
I told you this was a silly question.
But now I want you to imagine that same team gathering around your conference table. There is an opportunity on the table that you want to take full advantage of as quick as possible – i.e. you want to get that opportunity across the lake as quickly as possible.
If you are a leader who thinks your job is to “Tell your staff what to do” and their job is to do what you tell them to do, how many “Mental Oars” will be rowing to figure out how you can take full advantage of the opportunity on the table?
Yes – Sadly – Only One – Only Your Mental Oar is in play!
But if you are a leader who “Leads With Questions,” who asks, “What do you all think we might do to take full advantage of this opportunity?” – now how many “Mental Oars” might there be rowing this opportunity into the future?
Yes – potentially everyone on your team will be engaged in trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of this opportunity.
Of course you are not only asking, “What do you think?” but when your team-members answer you are asking them “What else?” & “Can you please say more about that?”
Might you hear ideas that are in fact better than any ideas you have?
While not guaranteed, with all of their “Mental Oars” rowing with you is it not entirely probable that you will hear ideas you have not thought of and quite possibly better than the ones you have thought of?
Now let’s imagine that your team-member Latisha shares an incredible idea! An idea that you think is absolutely brilliant – better than anything you had been thinking – so you say, “Latisha, I love your idea! In fact it is brilliant. Would you be willing to lead our whole team in executing your idea?”
How would you guess Latisha would be feeling? Valued! Appreciated! Empowered!
How hard do you think Latisha will work to do everything possible to see that her idea does in fact successfully take full advantage of this opportunity on your table? How likely is it that she will give it everything she has?
Let’s contrast this with the earlier paradigm. You are the leader who thinks your job is to tell your staff what to do and their job is to do what you tell them to do. So you tell your staff exactly what you want them to do and you ask Latisha to lead the effort. Latisha thinks your idea isn’t very good! (But of course says nothing) How hard do you think Latisha will work to see that your idea is successfully executed? Of course she will probably think – “You (her boss) sign her paychecks – so she will have to do what you have requested.” But will her whole heart be in it? Or would you guess, “Most likely, Not?”
“Would you rather be asked for your input or
told what to do?”
—Gary B. Cohen
“For most companies, their greatest resource
is their people. If leaders don’t ask what they
know, a valuable corporate resource will have
“A bad leader will tell people what to do.
A good leader will ask questions and let
his or her people figure out the answers.
A great leader asks the questions that
focus the intelligence of their team on the
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