What answer do I give my team? They are all high performers. However we had a bad year in terms of our sales. Now I need to at least point out what will move the needle for us in the next year. How do I do that? ~ VP, Sales, Tech
When we are in a leadership position, its easier to assume that people will come to us looking for answers. Else why should they even follow us? Well this could be somewhat true when we have grown in hierarchy doing the same things our directs are doing now.
However, in today's world, there is only a little overlap between the experience of the leader and experience of the team. And it's practically impossible to know everything.
In this situation what can a leader do differently to help themselves and their team?
A true understanding of the challenge can come through if we drop the baggages in our head.
A true understanding of the solution can emerge by following a spirit of enquiry - not to find who is to blame, but to find what is the challenge and what needs to change to over come the challenge.
How can a leader develop such a 'questioning to understand & solve' mindset?
A beginner's mind is one that is open and curious.
It is devoid of any conditions on what reality is.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are a few."
~Shunryu Suzuki, Zen mind, Beginner's mind
A leader is much effective in this space as they open up possibilities and new ways to look at the challenge.
2. Being a coach
A coach is someone who helps another figure out options in way that works in their context and is self-sustaining.
In his book, the coaching habit, Michael Bungay Stanier talks about the 7 questions that can change the way you lead.
They are simple and very easy to apply.
The Kickstart Question – What’s on your mind?
The AWE Question – And what else?
The Focus Question – What’s the real challenge here for you?
The Foundation Question – What do you want?
The Lazy Question – How can I help?
The Strategic Question – If you are saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?
The Learning Question – What was most useful for you?
A leader who has to pretend that they know the answer when they don't, will come across as in-authentic.
An ability to admit that you don't know all the answers and appear real is the most important quality to build credibility around your enquiry.
In his book, 'The book of beautiful questions', Warren Berger highlights the qualities of such a leader with questions:
Am I willing to be seen as naive?
Am I comfortable raising questions with no immediate answers?
Am I willing to move away from what I know?
Am I open to admitting I might be wrong?
Am I willing to slow down and consider?”
4. Critical thinking
Critical thinking is an intellectually disciplined process to structure the thinking to be objective, analysing and synthesising before forming a judgement.
In my coaching journey, I have seen leaders struggle with what to do with the answers after they ask the question.
Deep listening is required to identify uncut diamonds in what someone says. After this through a process of analysis and synthesis meaning/judgement needs to be inferred and actions planned accordingly.
As a leader, how can you use questions to move your team forward?