My 4 year old grand-daughter’s sea horse, Gill, died this week. Her mum, Anna, was explaining to Eden about death and dying. She listened carefully, asked some questions and then said: “Now I know everything”. She thought for a moment and then she said to her mum: “Mum, sometimes I know everything and sometimes I don’t know anything.”
I am a whole lot older than Eden, but I thought to myself: “That’s just what I feel. Sometimes I know everything and sometimes I feel I don’t know anything.” In spite of a rich life-time of study, all the university courses I have done, all the information I have in my head, in my library, in my filing cabinet and at my disposal on the internet, I have come to realise that the more I know, the more I become aware how much I don’t know.
In this fast moving, unpredictable and changing world, I am not ashamed to admit that. I am not embarrassed about it. I can quite easily tell someone, who asks me a question, that I do not know, even when it is expected that I should know. What I do know is that I can find an answer – albeit maybe temporary – to any question someone asks me. See, I’m a learner, and as Eric Hoffer says:
In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth,
while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited
for a world that no longer exists.
You need to adopt this attitude also and the 5th chapter in my book: Take Your Foot Off The Brake is on how you can learn to do this. It’s not about having the right answer because that answer may only be relevant today. Tomorrow there may be a different answer. One thing I am sure of is that the answers to 4 year old Eden’s questions today will be very different when she asks those same questions in 20 years time.
Leaders and Managers Today need to be Skillful in Asking Good Questions.
One of the most important skills leaders and managers need to acquire today is the ability to ask good questions – the ability to ask, rather than tell. One of the world’s greatest management consultants, the late Peter Drucker made this exact statement. Telling people is an old leadership style. Leading with questions is the new. Many don’t know how to do that. They are not good at asking those empowering questions that lead their people to work out for themselves what to do, how to do it and where to go with it. While they don’t develop those skills, they keep their people dependent on them. It may be quicker and easier to do it that way in the short term, but in the long term, they end up with a team of people who are dancing to the beat of the leaders’ drum, not their own and feeling very disengaged. Leaders then blame their people, never looking to themselves as the possible cause of the problem.
In the Blessing White study on coaching that I refer to in my blog on 22.1.2015, many managers found it challenging to move from a manager-controlled giving feed-back approach with their people to a collaborative coaching approach because they were concerned they didn’t have the answers to the questions their people might ask. What the study revealed was that employees don’t want their managers to give them the answers. They want to discover them for themselves.
They said the most helpful support came from the managers who stretched them to their limit, who asked them where the fear was coming from that was stopping them from taking that next step? They were managers who helped them explore the depths of their dreams, hopes and aspirations. They were the managers who gave them stretch assignments that took them out of their comfort zone, but also helped them uncover talent and potential they didn’t know they had.
The second most supportive action their managers took was asking questions to help them think through and solve work challenges on their own. This would spook many managers who do not trust their people. They would fear they wouldn’t solve them “appropriately”, as one of my manager coaching clients told me. Far from employees not having the skills to solve work problems, it is the manager who does not have the skills to build that empowering confidence in his/her employee.
In these uncertain times, challenges, both personal and organisational, are going to come from out of left field on a constant basis. The way you may have handled a similar situation 2 years ago is no longer relevant. You have to be able to draw on some “learning” that leads to a different solution. It will most likely not be an answer from “out there”. It will be as you tap into “learning” within yourself that you will find the answers to lead your people through to good outcomes. This “learning” is your self-awareness, your psychological strength that sees you able to ride through any storm without falling apart and your emotional intelligence that sees you very adeptly manage your own emotions and those of your people in constructive and positive ways as you respond to the challenges.
So inherit and embrace this rapidly changing and unpredictable world – be a learner.