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.
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.
- What opportunities/dangers do you see in this situation?
- What could we do to make this happen? (Notice that the question doesn’t ask if we should make it happen.)
- What did you do when faced with ________? (Insert, danger, opportunity, resistance, or this type of issue.)
- What has failure/success taught you about dealing with this type of ________?
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.
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?
Dan, I appreciate the many ways that you approach the importance of being genuinely curious, asking questions, and connecting with people. As I am currently reading Judith Glaser’s latest book, “Conversational Intelligence” and what we learn from brain science about connecting with people in ways that lead to collaboration and innovation; you are right on target. The approach you suggest releases Oxytocin in our brains (both conversational partners) and that pulls us toward one another and opens us up. Thanks for your many good posts around this key dimension of leadership.
Thanks Ken. I’m glad you brought up Conversational Intelligence. I was fortunate to talk with Judith: http://bit.ly/1s2zmof
I’m sure you’ll enjoy her book.
I am enjoying it for sure; and it was good to re-visit your April, 2014 conversation with her.
Dan, sometimes it seems to me that people are constantly in an ongoing battle with each other be it friendly or adversarial when it comes to finding a common platform in communication between the generations. They say old heads should guide the younger ones through the maze and myriad of possibilities in how to get to the answer even when we don’t honestly know the question in order to turn night into day, darkness into light and ignorance into insight.
Personally speaking I have always found it productive to observe the quiet ones from both generations and when the opportunity exists to ask for their input – “what do you think and why” – for they always seem to frame questions simply but are usually hesitant to speak when they don’t fully comprehend what is going on around them.
Thanks Imelda. Great suggestion. The question, “What do you think,” shows respect and creates connection. 🙂
Hi Imelda: What a beautiful and powerful thought about “older heads guiding the younger ones…especially when we don’t even know the question.” While Dan’s post is about how younger leaders can connect with older staff, I wonder if younger leaders truly realize the wealth, depth and expanse of wisdom and experience they have in their midst–and just because “elders” seem to function less–“elders are not a function.”
Our elders have much to share and contribute. We must not allow our ego to deny their value and goodness–and turn them into a function. Like you say, elders have both the questions and the answers. They have already been where we’re going. Great comment, Imelda.
Thank you …. I guess we each usually unknowingly claim to be something within our work worlds during our growth through the years. It is only on reflection you can see the journey from immaturity to maturity and those key people or circumstances that influenced it. Our lifetime appears to be like a watch that claims to be water resistant but in time you learn it is not water proof and our treasured possession can end up being a disappointment or worse. Only old heads know this for sure, can tell the difference can help younger ones see, but there is a method in the madness in how to do that and to replicate proven durable learning interaction that takes place during the nursery years in a secure environment to the office in latter years. But, when time ticks fast and deadlines loom you soon learn what watch is definitely not meant to be used for diving to deep depths or it will crack ! 🙂
Wow, Imelda: What have you been smoking this morning? You and your thoughts remind me of the young Milton Freedman–who ultimately became one of the world’s greatest economists. In his youth, he had what he called the “mini-habit” (baby steps…instead of 100 push-ups, 5 push-ups, for example) of looking at all people issues, organizational problems, and leadership solutions FIRST as philosophy (cause) and then as plan (cure or repair). He thought in your terms, Imelda…about our worlds, knowing and not knowing, maturity and immaturity, and yes, even that great universal watch about which you speak. For the young Freedman, it wasn’t enough to describe a fact; he needed to ascertain its relation to experience and thereby to get at its meaning and worth. That is–to use “wisdom” to put back together better than before that “universal watch” that “knowledge” took apart.
With the same ease and calm that I feel you write your thoughts, Imelda, Milton Freedman did not see a world of madness, chaos, darkness, disappointment, or even insecurity. What he saw was a people who refused to think…think deeper. At his Alma Mater–the University of Chicago– he created a course that continues today: Inquisitive Questioning. It’s all about essential questions and synthetic interpretation.
No more thoughts or comments today, Imelda. You’ve burned my brain. I’ve got to rest. Yet, thanks for fabulous and inspiring thinking.
So sad when younger people AND/OR older people feel they have all the answers. Older people have to believe there are new options – no matter how dedicated they are to ‘keeping up’ with things. Younger people have to believe, actual experience is important – no matter how good their education was. BOTH GROUPS have to believe that the diversity across the combined groups will always improve the effort!!!
I’m not well entrenched in the older group. When I was younger, I loved hearing the stories of those who were my elders. I’m now the one so willing to share mine… Even if not on the situation being considered!!! You know, like the time when the manufacturer offered a computer memory upgrade from 16KB to 32KB…
“Certainty might impress but is boring” is a powerful statement. Such people know everything. It means there is no scope for them to grow or understand. Such people try to show their knowledge everywhere and actually do not contribute much. They expect others to appreciate their knowledge. It is very true that positive ideas emerge, after negatives, if you courageously persist. So, when negative ideas are emerging, it is a good sign. When people will emit everything first then definitely they will suggest new ideas. Problem arises, when people do not react or do not contribute anything.
Young leaders could connect elder leaders by sincerely appreciating them, asking suggestions, and taking their opinions etc. Elder leaders should be respected. They expect that. Leaders should not react to negative answers. In Fact, they should appreciate first for showing courage. They should encourage intervention and address the issues politely. They should not take anything personally and if possible accept the realities. If they feel that there is better way to response, they should do it. It they are not capable at that time, they should promise to address the issue next time with better insights etc.
This picture is my new display background picture now. Thanks! Thats exactly what I needed now!
I really love this article Dan! I am a young entrepreneur and have never asked number 4 of asking questions to elders and I feel as though I may have missed some opportunities not asking that and other questions and appreciate you writing this article!! Very informative!