Are You “Dumb” Enough to Lead
You rose to leadership because you provided answers and solutions; that’s what individual contributors do. Not so with leaders.
In the past, you had all the answers but now you need all the questions. Are you brave enough to not know, even when you think you do?
Leaders with answers don’t need teams, they need cheerleaders and yes-men.
Curiosity and questions enable leaders to bring out the best in others; to find solutions through others. Bringing out the best in others is your job, period.
You limit your leadership when you’re afraid to ask “dumb” questions.
- Ask obvious questions.
- Explore inconsistencies.
- Toss out a “Why not?” It might take you somewhere.
Critics and questions:
Every leader hears personal and organizational criticisms. Face critics with questions not answers.
- Where does listening to you take us?
- What new future does your critique create?
- Are you offering solutions or just bitching?
- What can you do to make things better?
- Are you aligned with our mission, vision, and values?
Facing the down side of curiosity:
Too much curiosity creates a spiraling vortex of uncertainty. Too much curiosity stalls progress. There are dumb questions.
- Ask questions that lead to action.
- Ask questions that connect with strengths and opportunities.
- Ask questions that create simplicity not complexity. Any fool can create paralyzing confusion.
- Ask fewer “why” questions.
- Ask more questions that start with “how” and “what.” Well crafted “what” questions cut to the chase.
Leading with questions:
Repeating questions creates focus in others. Ask a question frequently enough and people will determine it matters. Ask questions connected to values, mission, and vision.
How can leaders deal with the struggle to have answers when they should be helping others find answers?
Great article with lots to think about. Praying you are well and recovering. Merry Christmas
Thanks for the note. I’m healing.. doing everything they tell me to do. Thanks for your prayers. Merry Christmas to you.
Really appreciate the article and the excellent questions posed. Thank you and hope you are recovering quickly.
Thank you Mike. Good weekend to you.
Years ago, I was a teacher. I learned a form of teaching called the “Socratic Method.” In this form, the teacher becomes the inquisitor, vice the bastion of all knowledge. The method helps the student bring out the fullness of their knowledge and experience through the teacher’s questions. The teacher helps the students, therefore, to identify gaps in reasoning and to find ways to fill those gaps. If done carefully, this method respects the experience and knowledge of the individual, while ensuring the reasoning is sound.
Question-asking is my favorite form of teaching, parenting, coaching and leading. Nothing propels someone forward faster than when a question posed moves him to think through it. And then to watch that lightbulb come on in a student’s own answers…priceless.
This is a great post and a comment made by Verne Harnish in his blog post yesterday can help you measure it with the questions to statement ratio: http://verneharnish.typepad.com/growthguy/2011/12/bogemp-reunion-five-management-metrics-fill-pipeline-in-december-power-of-pricing.html
One question though, Dan. I’d like to spend some time putting this post in practice, and I’d benefit from an example of a well-crafted “what” question. Can you elaborate on this?
Here’s an example Nathan:
Rather than asking “why did this project fail?” which leans towared finger pointing ask:
What went wrong?
What can we do next time to enhance success.
In the context of evaluating performance, I find “what” more useful than “why.”
Hope that helps.
Great reframe Dan…
Compare your own inner reaction to these two questions…
What’s wrong with you?
What happened to you?
When you ask a why question, you rely on the interpretation of others, versus on the actual facts. We are often fascinated to learn about another individual’s motivation. However, to form our own independent interpretations, it would be better to seek more data from descriptive accounts of events. Descriptive accounts are usually more accurate, and are more likely to be received by questions that begin with Who, What, When, Where and How. Descriptive questions are also more likely to yield information which is verifiable- or able to be proven true or false.
I think when people look dumb, they might lead others. The reason seems; they look transparent with no hidden intention. They do not have hidden agenda. People easily believe them by their external appearance. In fact, external appearance plays great role for people to decide who is trustworthy and who is not.
I absolutely agree that asking questions is sign of strength. When people do not raise question, thinking what others will think actually weaken their strength. Simple questions are often more powerful then complex and lengthy questions.
To struggle to have answers, leaders should be open and flexible enough to thing beyond their preconceived thoughts. This provides leaders to think from others perspectives. Readymade answers or one answer is usually blocks options. So, leaders should encourage having multiples answers with logic.
I strongly believe the how provides “Means” to achieve what. So, how is more important than what. How determines intention and what determines gravity of impact.
You took these ideas to a whole new level. I love your distinction between “how” and “what.”
Thanks for all you add,
Sam Snead, winner of more PGA Golf tournaments than anyone, often said a good golfer has big hands, big feet and a small brain. His point was that too much thinking slowed not accelerated performance. Golf, if one cares to, offers a great opportunity to practice leadership, network and create in a healthy environment!
The photo of choice is interesting Dan. If leaders were more like a bovine, they would know what to do well before the storm. The follower would be right there with them without question. The phrase “until the cows come home” is real. They will travel several miles knowing where food is plentiful. The younger cows learn with consistency of their leaders. Their communication is manipulative but accurate with less confusion. The followers don’t ask why; they just follow with trust.
“Ye who asks the questions, has the power.” I was thinking someone famous said this…but when I looked for it, I couldn’t find it. Maybe someone else knows where I might have heard that.
The right questions can lead to better questions…more curiosity…more learning and growth. The one asking the questions truly controls the direction of that growth, so it is imperative the leaders not only know to ask questions, but know how and when to ask the right ones. Even if you look “dumb”, it is one of the smartest things you can do.
“Even if you look dumb, it is one of the smartest things you can do.” Great stuff MMF. I guess the more dumbness the greater involvement. 🙂
Hi Dan. Glad you’re engaged. The answers that matter always come from those led. The questions we pose are a nudge to spark the team. The questions we ask create quandary and excitement. Responses gauge the strength of the query. The interrogatory is never dumb if it fuels creativity and innovation. We arrive with “why am I here?” and we depart with “How did I do?” It is “beyond question” that leaders need go and posit the challenge that drives all to success and and happiness. Cheers 🙂
I wish I had thought of the line… “The questions we ask create quandary and excitement. Responses gauge the strength of the query.”
I just love the conversation,
I’m glad to read this. I have been in one leadership position in particular where people thought I was dumb if I asked any questions. This is the kind of leader I want to be though, so I moved on to develop this leadership method elsewhere, and it works! I am sticking with it because I believe it’s valuable and have seen good things come from it.
Congratulations on sticking to methods that align with who you are. Continued success to you.
Leadership certainly has new face and I enjoy it. We have moved from fake “know it all’s” to helping others learn what they know.
This comes from asking the right questions and using the coaching model versus the “know it all” mode.
It has certainly helped me and helped me to develop others.
I’m so happy to know that I am not the only one that is putting this out there and repeating it over and over! Thank you Dan.
This was good – I always tell my team – “You’d be surprised and what I don’t know.” Thanks for reinforcing my need to ask.
Which might beg another question! 😉
A huge mistake many leaders make is trying to “add too much value.” I think of that phrase a lot when I’m in meetings and interact with people.
Great article, Dan. I printed this one out.
I liked your statement, ‘Leaders with answers don’t need teams, they need cheerleaders and yes-men’. It’s quite true when we experience that we are not heard or are given any respect by the bosses. This is the direct reflection of a leader type and the organization culture. It becomes difficult to adjust in such an environment. You may compromise to become a ‘yes-man’ in the process which is again not easy for a creative and courageous brain.
Good leaders do seek answers from the team members by showing their innocence and always encourage people to give suggestions. It’s a matter of working style and the human touch with interpersonal skills that a leader requires to demonstrate if he is keen to take the team along and the team development.
Long-term success and the branding of an organization will be the direct result of a leader’s working style. Human touch and the people development are the key factors that a good leader shouldn’t miss. But at times, the leader loses his patience and acts more by way his inner feelings which has an immediate concurrence of ‘yes-men’ and do not believe in seeking the answers from others with an open mind.
I have a degree in Human Development and learned the power of asking good questions. It can help a leader out if they know what and how to ask good questions. Wonderful thoughts.
Great thread folks, thanks!
At it’s core a question is not a question, but a potential connection and a self-revealing vulnerability.
How/if we make that connection is whether it is question, statement, direction, etc. How/if it connects and its tensile strength are the colors underneath, invisible to the mind’s eye, yet rife with undertones.
Question with direct, unconditional, positive regard aligned with vision might one perspective.
On another level, asking, not telling, endorses the greater knowledge of the group and individuals in that group, to tap into their expertise and be recognized for it. Feels really good to be acknowledged as knowledgeable once in a while, right leaders? Then feed it foward! (props to Marshall Goldsmith)
Often, when we become leaders, we think it is because we had good questions to help make decisions based on the answers. Over time, it becomes a perceived ‘given’ that we have/know answers and we tend to believe that we do have a most excellent set of new clothes. And of course leaders are ‘never’ vulnerable. Maybe we need to rethink that one or think less…kudos Bruce for the S. Snead perspective.
Maybe it is not so much that we had the answers, but that we sought true connections, that we asked (didn’t tell-Socratic), that we showed a level of vulnerability, that we were acknowledging the expertise of the team.
Suggestion; How about ‘in under 300 words’ instead of ‘in 300 words or less’.
would be grammatically correct, wouldn’t it?
Thanks for another great article, to which I think’ hmmm…yes!’.
Fabulous article. I’m an independent, out-of-the box thinker. I like to get down & dirty, not stand on the sidelines looking pretty cheering someone else on & I’ve NEVER been a “yes-man” or “yes-woman” for that matter. This article explains why my last boss got rid of me & also explains her choice for my replacement. Great job!
People (including me at times) are so afraid to ask questions. You don’t want to seem dumb – yet all the time you’re sitting their ignorant! Love these reminders.
Great article! Too many “smart” leaders out there and not enough “dumb” ones.
Excellent thought provoking article. The heart of the issue in my view is that leaders have to be secure enough to not know, to ask questions, to invite their team to step up, to allow others to gain credit. There needs to be a huge paradigm shift for many leaders and organisations to allow leaders to relax, relate and release their teams to powerfully function.
Relax, relate and release are exactly what golfers need to practice and product under pressure.
Relax the mind and body with your pre-shot routine. Make sure you relate the motion of the club head (your influencer) to the intended target and release your energy toward the goal (the hole, not the ball).
Golf is a great leadership training activity when coached and applied correctly.