Thinking for ourselves is how we really know what our next step to success is. Asking others questions is how we help others to think for themselves so that they can do the same.
When I begin to lead a new team, it fills me with so much joy. It gives me the opportunity to lead more people, help more people, and spread my message even further. There is nothing better than leading a team through a transformation or a change, and seeing them grow throughout the process.
1. Asking Open Questions
My process is to ask the team a lot of open questions, so that I dig deep into their minds and get them thinking deeply. Some of the questions I ask, I already know what they are going to say. However, sometimes I have no idea.
I love it when I ask my team a question that I think I know the answer to, and they correct me with either a better answer, or prove that I was completely wrong. It shows me that they are thinking deeply, and differently because they are not expecting me to just give them the answers.
If I was to just give them the answers instead of asking the team questions, then the team wouldn’t need to do any thinking, and even if they didn’t agree with my answers, they would not challenge them. Which would tell me that I do not have buy-in from the team.
So, in order to make life easier for myself, I ask the team questions that they need to come up with the answer for. If they come up with the answer, then they have already bought-in. whereas if they are just told what to do, it would be a lot harder for me to get the team’s buy-in.
When the team are coming up with the answers and the solutions, everyone is bought-in, and everyone is involved in the decision making process. When you make a decision with your team, and value everyone’s input, the team will feel respected.
2. Why We Must Make Decisions As A Team
There are a lot of low performing leaders who think that it is their role to make all of the decisions, and come up with all the answers. For a lot of these leaders, they have not had the leadership development they have needed so they can learn that it is not their role at all to provide all the answers, and make all of the decisions.
These are not bad people, or have bad intentions, they just don’t know. I was one of these leaders. I thought that if I made all of the decisions and had all the answers then I would be helping my team. But, I was actually pulling the team back, and depriving them of the opportunity to think for themselves.
There are other low performing leaders who like to come up with all the answers because of their ego. They like to look like the leader who knows everything. They actually think it makes them look good, when it doesn’t.
Low performing leaders who make all the decisions, give all the directions, and come up with all the answers may change things for a short time. But long term, leading like that will only hinder the team and their progress. By not making the team think for themselves, or even think at all is pulling them back.
Low performing leaders do not think long term, they only really look for quick wins. They say they think long term, but they really don’t.
A lot of low performing leaders cannot see past today. The furthest that a low performing leader will think is next week. That is not long term thinking at all.
They do not have their team’s best interests at heart, even though they say they do. Giving the team the answers that they should be thinking of themselves does not help them, it hinders them.
3. Long Term Thinking
Highly effective leaders are always thinking long term. They are “big picture” thinkers. Their long term thinking is focussed on their people, not on the product or service that the organisation provides.
Highly effective leaders know that when they are asking their team open questions, and getting them thinking deeply, they are increasing their influence with them.
They know this because they are giving influence to their team, which in turn increases their own influence. Give influence to a person, and you will receive influence. Give to receive.
What you must realise and put a stop to today is, thinking for others. Whether that be your team, your colleagues, your friends, or your family. By answering people’s questions for them, and doing their thinking for them does not help them at all.
It actually pulls them back, rather than propels them forward. Helping people to think for themselves is how you help them to grow, and how you do that is by asking them open questions. Getting them to think deeply, and come up with their own solutions, ideas, and make their own decisions.
4. Inspire Self-Thinking
Asking open questions is thought provoking for your team member. It will create a spark in them to start thinking for themselves, and they will need to spend the time trying to come to the answer or the solution. So, let them spend that time thinking, and don’t rush them.
A great way to challenge yourself when you are leading your team is, only lead them with questions. Do your very, very best to not give your team any directions whatsoever. The only answers you can give them to their questions is an open question.
Do this for about a week, and see the difference in your team when they are forced to start thinking for themselves.
It is difficult to pull off when leading your team with questions only because you feel the urge to just give them the answer. Especially if it is just a small thing they are asking you about. But, believe me, leading with questions works. It will get both you and the team into new habits.
You will get into the habit of asking questions, and intentionally helping your team to think for themselves. It will become second nature to you. Your team will get into the habit of thinking for themselves, and they will reduce the number of questions they ask you on a daily basis.
When I was engineering production manager in Scotland, I tried this technique when we used to have our one o’clock catch up meetings. Every shift we used to have a one o’clock catch up to see how the day was going, no matter if it was dayshift or nightshift.
Usually this was the time when I would get bombarded with questions. But for a couple of weeks, I made sure I answered their questions with open questions. I couldn’t believe the difference in how the team were thinking.
They were a lot more prone to coming up with their own ideas without needing my permission, and our one o’clock catch up meetings became more of a discussion and joint decision making process, rather than me having all the answers.
You could “feel” the difference in the team, and I could feel the difference in all of us when we were together. Asking thought provoking, open questions to the team definitely brought us together a lot more, and we were making decisions together.
If anything went wrong, I was accountable. When things went right, the team got the credit. That’s how I saw it, and the team felt respected because of it.
Leading your team with questions is how you make decisions as a team. When you make decisions as a team, the team feels a lot better. The team are more willing to listen to each other and help each other. You as the leader will find it a lot easier to gain the team’s buy-in, and as a leader this is all you need to make things happen.
A simple open question can lead to something amazing.
I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.
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All the best,