I watch a lot of managers work really hard to show up with all of the answers. It’s a natural impulse for a leader to want to solve all of the problems, know everything, and help people with information. Typically, though, the unintended consequence of this is, well, you have to have all of the answers. (And no one has all of the answers.) It also means that your team can’t have any of the answers because the boss has them all. So the expectation becomes that the team has questions for the boss, and the boss has answers for the team. The scenario plays out this way in businesses everywhere, every day; and it hinders a business’ ability to change, grow, innovate, and thrive.
CONSIDER THIS: What if leaders worked to show up with questions instead of answers? What if our job as leaders was to make people think about solutions, rather than hand out solutions? What if our goal was to build the capability to solve problems on our team, not to just solve the problems ourselves?
Typically, managers feel like it’s faster to simply tell people what to do. The truth is, the telling part is faster but the organizational problem-solving time is slower. It’s only faster for the manager. It’s also easy to focus on the time spent on a single problem (“It only took a minute to fix!”), rather than the fact that you just spent an entire day, or maybe you spend every day, solving relatively minor problems. The reality is that rather than taking a walk to the boss’s office or picking up the phone to check with her, efficient teams are inspired and empowered to make good decisions and move on.
Learning happens when people have to think about challenges and create solutions. Growth and innovation happen when we have insight. Insight happens in one very specific region of the brain and when it does, we actually release neurotransmitters that help us formulate a plan, consider a new approach, and tackle a new challenge. Instructions do not cause insight; questions do.
People are more committed to activities they choose for themselves than they are to the activities they are told to execute. Our job as a leader is to help them make choices about how they tackle a problem or approach a situation differently. If you want full engagement from your team, you can only get there through their choices.
Of course, there are times when we need to share information, give instructions, or provide an answer, but there are far more opportunities when we could build capability, foster learning, and create insight. Our ultimate job as leaders is to have impact on others and questions have more impact than statements. Perhaps we need to value our ability to ask great questions more than our ability to have the right answers.
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