The smart, aware executive today is doing something different. He or she is asking questions. Almost like leading itself, Just Ask Leadership has different techniques and styles. Readers will learn which ones are right and the best fit for them in this article.
Questions are the answer
Company leaders today face new and increasingly complex problems. Most of these problems are intractable, if not, in the end, problems without real, lasting solutions. It is an extremely frustrating situation for today’s leaders, who are accustomed to finding answers and whose ability to find the right answers got most of them into leadership positions in the first place.
This conundrum leaves leaders with two options: They can try to keep abreast of every issue and make the best possible decision, or they can start to ask more questions.
Just Ask Leadership
Business schools don’t teach courses on question asking, so leaders typically don’t study and analyze questions the way they would a quarterly report or a performance review.
The devaluing of questions can be attributed, in large part, to our educational system. During the first and second industrial revolution, when our educational system was designed, we trained our children to be factory workers. Anything the worker needed to know beyond that education could be learned on the job, from the manager. In turn, the manager was responsible for mentoring, coaching, or developing those employees that showed interest, ability, and tenacity. The worker rarely knew more than their boss about how the business worked, since the boss had held and succeeded in most key jobs on his or her way up the organization.
The Wharton School of Business opened in 1881 and, with a Masters of Business and Administration, graduates could jump past the factory floor right into management. But even with this development, those at the top of the organization usually had more knowledge than those underneath. The same can’t be said now, at least with any degree of certainty. Technology has put knowledge in the hands of anyone with access to a computer (approximately 76 percent of the U.S. population).
In the 21st century, it’s not possible for leaders to be know-it-alls, nor is it in their or the organization’s best interest to try. Leaders need to ask questions that move others to action and answers.
The employees that work for you today either know more than you do about their job or at least they should know more than you. As you move up the ranks of an organization or migrate up the ranks by job transfer, you will end up leading people that do things you cannot possibly understand. Rather than using a conventional way of getting up to speed, say reading extensively, leaders should use questions to increase others’ alignment, engagement, and accountability.
Just Ask Leadership isn’t simply about asking more questions; it’s about asking more and better questions. Just Ask leaders are aware of the full range of options, their own question-asking proclivities, and the ways in which they can and ought to trust members of their team.
Moving from knowing to not knowing
One of the most difficult challenges you have as a leader is to accept that you may not know what is right, or best, for most situations. You’re accustomed to having the right answers, so it’s hard to let go of the answer-providing habit. However, it’s also important to recognize how much and how fast things change. Even if you’ve spent your entire career with the same organization, it was nearly impossible to have kept up with all the changes. There are different players, different scales and different competing environments. The answers you knew to be true or the best might not even be relevant anymore. Continue to article on Ivey Business Journal