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Research Triangle Business Advisors 
February 2012 Newsletter

Last month I sent out my first newsletter for 2012.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve used a newsletter to keep in touch and share some hints and tips from situations I’m seeing in current client situations.  I hope you find these short articles thought provoking and helpful.  Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, comments or want to suggest a topic for a future article.

Bob De Contreras





Leading by Asking Questions

Overheard in the office coffee room: “Whenever someone tells me what to do or how I should do it, I get a negative feeling inside. I feel like why bother trying, even when I know logically they are telling me for my own good!”

A big obstacle that gets in the way of the workforce’s desire to do a good job is a manager telling them what to do, telling them what their targets are and what method and equipment to use to achieve those targets.

The result of this “telling people what to do” is a negative impact on productivity and creativity along with disappointing results from assignments delegated to the leader’s team. Oh… and, another person with negative feelings telling stories in the coffee room.

What can we do? Stop telling people what to do, and start leading by asking questions. Let’s look at some examples:

Delegation: Have you ever been disappointed with the results of an assignment you delegated to one of your team members?  They didn’t do it the way you would have?  They didn’t achieve the results you expected? Often this is because of a misalignment on information. This is caused by the team member not knowing everything you do. Or, it could be that you didn’t tell the team member all the information you know that is relevant to the delegated task.  Therefore the team member can’t do as good a job as the leader, because the team member does not have the information the leader does.

Another alternative is to assign the task then simply ask, “…what else do you need to know to be successful on this assignment?”  This helps solve the information misalignment problem created because the information flow was not complete.  I’ve heard team members say, “He took 10 seconds to tell me what to do as he ran to his next meeting and I have no idea what he wants.”  Slow down and ask questions to be sure the team member has the information they need to complete the task successfully.

Method: Ask ten people how to accomplish a specific task and you will probably get ten different answers. So, why would a team leader think that a team member will approach a task the same way the team leader would? After all, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

The secret to success here is to make the assignment and then ask the team member what approach alternatives exist and which one they think is the best alternative.  The answer will often highlight the difference in your thinking vs. your team member.  That answer will help you see other questions to ask. The value of this approach is it lets the team member feel like they are making the decisions, and allows the team leader to participate in the decision making activity by collaborating – leading by asking questions.

Direction: What is your first reaction when a team member tells you how they are going to do a task and it’s not what you would do – you say, “don’t do that, do it this way” (the way I would do it). This is a great situation for using leadership by asking questions. First question: Did you consider any other alternatives?  Second question: Tell me what you considered – or – What are some of the other alternatives you could consider? The first three alternatives your team member states are the easy answers and therefore usually not the best alternatives. The next three answers require more original thought and are often the best approaches and may even include the team leader’s chosen approach.  By collaborating on the approaches given by the team member, the team leader’s next questions can lead the team member to the best alternative. However, the team members will feel like they are leading the process.

Leadership by asking questions facilitates the team member and leader “coming together” in their thinking on how to find success. The Dalai Lama said it best when he said, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness.  Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

This short article can only whet your appetite for leading by asking questions. Your goal is to never start a sentence with the words, “You need to…”  Instead start all your sentences with, “how” (How would you accomplish…), or “what” (What do you think we should do to solve…), or “why” (Why did you choose this approach over the others…).


Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park |  Greensboro | North Carolina
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