Golden Visions & Associations
Thought of the Week
Your Success Thought for the Week of September 24, 2008

Lead With Questions

While business, corporate and political leaders across the board are finding themselves pressured to come up with ‘answers’ these days, I am not sure this is always the wisest approach. I invite my clients to see the difference between walking into a meeting with a series of questions verses walking in with the finite answers. It’s fascinating.

Do leaders have to be decisive and eventually come up with answers? Absolutely. However, some may do so without the benefit of input from key players; thus, their answers may not be the most appropriate for the situation.

The following Good to Great excerpt demonstrates how effectively this questions vs. answer approach can be:

“In 1972 CEO Alan Wurtzel’s company stood at the brink of bankruptcy. Wards (not to be confused with Montgomery Ward) was a hodgepodge of appliances and hi-fi stores with no unifying concept. Over the next ten years, Wurtzel and his team turned the company around and created the Circuit City concept. The results were stunning, beating the market twenty two times from its transition date in 1982 to 2000. How?

When Wurtzel started the long traverse from near bankruptcy to these stellar results, he began with a remarkable answer to the question of where to take the company: I don’t know. Unlike other leaders, Wurtzel resisted the urge to walk in with “the answer.” Instead, he put the right people on the bus and asked questions.

“Alan was a real spark,” said one board member. “He had an ability to ask questions that were marvelous. We had some wonderful debates in the boardroom. It was never just a dog-and-pony show.” Indeed, Wurtzel stands as one of the few CEO’s in a large corporation who put more questions to his board members than they put to him.

Like Wurtzel, leaders in each of the good-to-great transitions operated with a somewhat-Socratic style. They used questions for one and only one reason: to gain understanding. They didn’t use questions as a form of manipulation (“Don’t you agree with me?”) When we asked executives about their management team meetings during the transition era, they said that they spent much of the time “just trying to understand.”

The good-to-great leaders made particularly good use of informal meetings where they’d meet with groups of managers and employees with no script, agenda, or set of action items to discuss. Instead, they would start with questions like: “So, what’s on your mind?” “Can you tell me about that?” “ Can you help me understand?” “What should we be worried about?” These non-agenda meetings became a forum where current realities tended to bubble to the surface.”

This week I invite you to look for opportunities to ask more questions, make fewer assumptions, invite others to make fewer assumptions, and realize that you (or they) may just not know-it-all at the moment. ‘Seek first to understand then to be understood.”

Enjoy your discoveries and have a grand week.


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