Connecting with Elders and Power Brokers

Know-it-alls never ask real questions.

Leaders who always know; dominate, dictate, alienate, isolate, and eventually stagnate. Young and old often know too much and ask too little.

The most uninteresting person is the one who’s always certain.

certainty might impress but it's boring.png
Young to old:

Avoid adversarial relationships with elders, especially if they have authority. Engage older leaders through questions. In the process, connections strengthen.


People feel they matter when you ask sincere questions. Don’t feign interest. Ask questions you want answered.

Even when you think you know the answer, ask, listen, and explore.

Asking questions of an elder:

Use “What” questions to find clarity.

  1. What opportunities/dangers do you see in this situation?
  2. What could we do to make this happen? (Notice that the question doesn’t ask if we should make it happen.)
  3. What did you do when faced with ________? (Insert, danger, opportunity, resistance, or this type of issue.)
  4. What has failure/success taught you about dealing with this type of ________?

Negative responses:

People often respond to questions with reasons why something can’t be done.

I watched a leader ask, how could we grow. The responses began with explanations of why we aren’t growing and what won’t work. Negative response is natural.

Positive ideas emerge, after negatives, if you courageously persist.

Go around:

Unsuccessful leaders comfort themselves with reasons that explain why an unacceptable present is acceptable. They leave meetings relieved they have done what they could, even if more might be done.

Don’t push against negativity. Don’t answer naysayers. Go around.

Successful leaders keep pushing for imperfect solutions. “I see what won’t work. What might we do to grow? What could we try?”

Behavior not theory:

Always connect behaviors to solutions. “What behavior brings this imperfect solution into the real world?”

What questions enable young leaders to connect with elder leaders?

How might leaders respond to negative answers?