One of the things you should be asking yourself as a leader is whether you’re giving out more answers or asking more questions of your team. It turns out the distinction is incredibly important at a multitude of levels. John Maxwell even wrote an entire book on the topic called, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”.
Because while it might be tempting to think that as a senior leader, you have the smarts and knowledge to help solve just about any situation your team runs into. No matter what the scenario might be, you’ve probably got a good answer of how to solve it based on your experience. This might seem like a good thing: your team comes to you with a problem and you tell them how to solve it.
Not so fast. The catch, as I write about in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy is that just providing answers all the time isn’t scalable. You become the constraint to your organization’s ability to grow. Rather than lead, you become a switchboard operator trying to make the necessary connections to solve issues throughout the organization. While this hands-on approach can work when you’re still a small organization, eventually you will become the limiting factor is how everything gets done (or not) because there’s only so many questions you can answer.
That’s why great leaders understand the power in asking questions rather than providing answers. Questions can be a powerful way of getting someone to come around to your way of thinking. Good salespeople understand this. They know that it is much more influential to ask people questions to persuade them. A car salesperson, for instance, might ask something like: “What do you want your cay payment to be?” Or, “When do you want your car?” as opposed to just stating the answers to those questions. The key is to shut up after you ask the question – don’t answer your own questions or you’ll lose all the impact!
By asking questions, you are also giving your team the opportunity to build up their own decision-making muscles when it comes to solving problems. Eventually, if your team learns that you will provide them with more questions rather than answers, they will begin to tackle solving those problems on their own rather than trying to involve you every time. In fact, when I lead organizations, I would use this approach to train my people that I wanted them to go out and find the answers themselves with a bit of guidance from some additional questions I would throw their way.
Unless the issues are particularly thorny, like risky under the waterline type things that could sink the organization, you will actually build a stronger and more sustainable culture by empowering your team to find the answers themselves to questions you might throw their way.
I’ll admit that when I would send people who came looking for answers away from my office, it felt cold at times. But it was an important step in forcing them to think more about the issue before they brought it to my attention. Not only did this make me better leader, it made them more valuable to the organization as well. There was a joy for them and me when they developed the answer on their own (with just a little nudge in the right spots).
For what it’s worth, you can use this approach with your children. After all, one of our goals as parents is develop children into adults that can solve their own problems. Giving them the answers all the time might feel good, but doesn’t build their capacity to solve.
So, if you want to build a more scalable organization that can handle even greater capacity into the future, quit giving answers and focus on asking better questions instead.
You can find Jim at www.IncCEOProject.com