I call it “supervisor pants”.
It looks like this: When a leader is presented with an issue like a setback or a difficulty, they proceed to try to solve the problem or fix the situation. They jump to advice and solutions before empowering others to solve the situation themselves. They’ve put on their supervisor pants.
The term refers to the mistaken belief that to be a leader, one must have or provide the answers. As though a switch is flipped (as simple as putting on a pair of pants) and they have the right suggestions and advice. This is often grounded in a belief that if they don’t blatantly demonstrate their competence, the team won’t respect their leadership or deem them indecisive. There are also some leaders who think they, indeed, have all the answers, rendering the team passive to solving problems on their own.
However, leadership is about getting results through others. Not having or providing the answers.
The research is fascinating. The benefits of curiosity (asking questions and listening) include fewer decision-making errors, more innovation and creativity, reduced group conflict, open communication, and better team performance (Harvard Business Review).
This week we focus on building new muscles around being inquisitive. The goal here is to spend less time talking and telling and more time asking and listening.
How frequently are you talking during your team meetings? How intentionally are you listening to others and what observations of team dynamics do you notice?
Building self-awareness is the first step to position yourself to be curious. If you’re wrapped up in your own head, with your thoughts, frustrations, great ideas, and opinions, then you will struggle to be curious. The best way to enhance your inquiry skills is to set yourself aside.
Prioritize “What” and “How” Questions
Asking great questions is grounded in learning and growth. This is a broadening of thinking and perspective that leads to new ideas and solutions. Positive emotion sparks creativity and new ways of thinking.
When do you see your team coming up with the best ideas or solving the stickiest problems? Are they in a place of defensiveness or frustration? Or are they inspired and motivated? What questions a leader asks will direct the emotion on the team. That emotion then directs the work.
Ask open-ended questions that begin with What and How, Who is good too. This means avoid peppering people with close-ended yes/no questions. The objective is to build and broaden perspective and open-ended questions do that.
Two important notes:
After asking your question, try not to let someone respond with “I don’t know”. This is a reactive response or a habit. Nudge them forward with “Give it try. What do you think? I’d like your perspective.”
Keep listening. It is easy to slip into thinking about the next question versus listening to the response. This is a skill that will develop over time with practice.
Avoid Asking Why
There is an interesting nuance to a question that begins with “why”. It focuses on the past. It requires the recipient of that question to not only explain but do so by reflecting on the past. Problem-solving and solution-oriented thinking needs to focus on the future of the work. Spending time in the past is often unnecessary.
More so, the question “why” often puts people in a place to justify their opinions and it sets a tone of questioning judgment. This invites defensiveness. Conversations are rarely productive, and people won’t feel empowered if defensiveness is at play.
Once the skill of asking questions is developed, the proverbial sky is the limit. This is where a leader will take their team to new levels of performance because the team’s perspective is driving it.
The supervisor pants are off!
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
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