When an owner or senior manger is looking for someone that they want to promote, they look for someone who is able to solve problems and answer questions. We place a lot of value in those individuals who have been able to get the answers in the shortest amount of time. When I reflect upon my career, I can see that I was promoted more than once because I was able to solve problems for the organization. The challenge is that the strength that we established in order to grow our careers can also become a deterrent in the development of others.
The best leaders and coaches are actually the people who ask great questions and then charge their people to find the right answers. This means that we have to shift our thinking and focus our attention on getting great short-term business results and at the same time growing people. I heard a friend make a powerful statement when referring to his boys who were taking care of their yard. "I have to keep in mind that it's not about growing grass; it's about growing men." One of the most important challenges that leaders face is the development of their people and remembering that long-range success comes from helping others learn to solve problems themselves.
The book Managers as Mentors does a good job framing how effective managers work with their people. Here are three passages that were very helpful for me:
"Good mentors don't rescue; they support. The temptation of most leaders under the gun is to resort to demonstration rather than supportive direction. The most powerful contribution teachers can make to students is to help learners become their own teachers."
"Authenticity and humility are powerful components for all successful organizations. Mentors do not give courage. They uncover courage. They help the protégé uncover the courage through questions."
"A team is a group of people united by a shared vision, collective values, and a common picture of knowing who they are. Clarity and confidence in mission is not achieved in words, but when partnership actions match the words. Mentoring should begin as a partnership between a mentor and protégé for the purpose of mutual growth."
We all can learn more from asking great questions. In looking at how you are growing your people, consider how many questions you are asking versus how many statements you are making. Look for the questions that you want to ask that will challenge your people to grow and then provide them with the space that they need to find the answers and solutions. Continue to challenge yourself to win today, while you are preparing others to own tomorrow.
Here are a few questions that you could consider asking your people today:
- What is a win for you today?
- What is the plan you have put together to achieve that win?
- What are the barriers you are facing that challenge you?
- How do you think we should attack this problem or challenge?
- How would you assess our current performance?
How to Be an Active Listener
- Practice empathy. Step into their shoes.
Benefit: Understanding feelings elicits cooperation.
- Ask questions and paraphrase.
Benefit: You get the real message and ultimately control the conversation.
- Take notes in important meetings.
Benefit: You put value on the conversation and the other person's opinions.
- Pause before responding.
Benefit: Show you are truly listening and care to give a thoughtful response.
- Be patient. Never finish sentences for the other person. Take a deep breath and act as if you had all the time in the world.
Benefit: Breeds respect and confidence and may save you the embarrassment of jumping to the wrong conclusions.