Leaders Don’t Need All The Answers

Thursday, August 15, 2013

(A version of this was originally posted on November 15, 2011.  The topic came up last week during a conversation I had with a group of CEOs so I thought it would be useful to post this one again).

Why?One of the “myths” of leadership that I hear many leaders speak of is that they (leaders) must have all the answers.  I call this a myth of leadership because although some aspects of leading require having answers, there are many more aspects of leading that require asking the right questions.   Leading others is about inspiring them to follow you, and, it is often in asking questions and being in a curious frame of mind that you have the most influence to inspire others.

When you are an inquisitive frame of mind, you ask questions as opposed to giving answers and when you ask questions, you encourage others to come up with their own answers.  It is usually that type of powerful questioning with your employees that motivates them to continue to seek their own solutions.  I’ve seen this happen countless times when coaching others.  I believe all my clients, (and all of us), have all the answers that we seek within us.

As a coach, it is my role to help my clients discover those answers so that they learn how to rely on themselves to come up with solutions and solve problems.  I never assume I know the best answer for my clients.  I may have an idea or an opinion and I may even know what has worked in similar situations; however, that may not be the best solution for that particular person.

For example, I was coaching a leader who was struggling with one of his peers due to a very conflict-ridden relationship.  I had numerous ideas and thoughts about the best way he could handle this situation with his peer yet; it was through remaining in a curious mindset and continuing to ask him questions that explored the depths of the relationship that the solution was born.  And, the solution was something very different from what had popped into my mind.  Had I immediately offered my solution as an option, chances are my client would have taken it; yet, after continuing to explore the situation and remain curious, an even better solution emerged.  My client was energized by the solution and actually encouraged about the potential for his relationship with his peer moving forward.  I believe most of that energy and encouragement came from the fact that he actually came up with the solution. Yes, it was through lots of conversation, powerful questions, and introspective responses; however, not only was it the right solution, it also motivated him.

The same thing can happen if you, as a leader, do not immediately offer up answers to your employees’ questions or problems.  If employees show up in your office and have a bunch of questions about their careers or if they ask for your advice on customer or other employee issues, don’t be so quick to provide them with answers.  Instead, ask them some questions about what they think the best solution to the situation would be, why they would take that approach and what outcome their seeking?  Ask them what their career aspirations are and why they have those aspirations before giving your own input on what a fruitful career path or goal might be.

When you take the time to remain curious and ask compelling, thought-provoking questions, your employees will more often reach down deep and come up with their own best answer to solve the problem. That, in turn, inspires and motivates them to move forward with their solution; that is inspiring leadership and the strength of powerful questions.

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