By Libby Dishner, MLHR, CPC, ACC, Cresco Coaching & Consulting, LLC
As we become managers and leaders of people, we’re told that we’re now responsible for the results of the people in our charge. Most of the leaders who’ve gone before us teach us that it’s our job to tell – set expectations and give feedback. That’s what we know, and some of us have become really good at it, and our teams meet those expectations regularly.
But most of us, in our leadership roles, are befuddled when we think we’ve laid out clear expectations and our teams or individuals just don’t meet them. When they leave our office we’re sure they understand what the next steps are and the priority of work. However, when the deadline approaches, they haven’t asked for help along the way and now they’re asking for an extension. Why, oh why?
Another common scenario begins when we’ve painstakingly planned a feedback discussion. We’ve isolated the behaviors and are careful not to attack the person. We share how what has happened impacts the team or deliverable. We talk about what would’ve been the better, more appropriate, behavior or thing to have happen. And we’ve shared all this in a supportive, you’ll do better next time, manner. Textbook! So, why is it the next time the same thing happens? Ahhhhh… we’d like to pull our hair out.
Or, maybe we just bury our heads in the sand, because we abhor conflict and just hope it goes away.
Because of our training and what was modeled for us, many of us don’t look inward to see what we could be doing differently. Instead, we begin labeling people as “poor performers” or say, “they’re just not a good fit for this job.”
What I know from my twenty-five years in the workplace is that people don’t come to work to do a bad job. They don’t, despite what it may seem, want to create problems for their leaders. They do want to contribute to the greater mission of the organization and they want to add value to their team.
We’re in the information age. The age where we pay people to think for a living. Perhaps, management and leadership techniques that were developed for ages gone by should be examined and, if they’re not working, discarded. We need to develop leadership practices that help people with their critical thinking. Telling them what to do won’t help with that.
I hope you’re asking, “What can I do instead?” Here’s my recommendation – ask questions. Yes, that’s right, the answer is that simple. And that complicated. Because, what you ask and how you ask is critically important. Asking questions forms new pathways in the brain. So, if you’re looking to, change behavior, ask a question. Open-ended questions are the best way to start. I remember learning about Who, What, Where, When, Why and How in English. If you start your questions with one of those words, you are half-way there. These types of questions give you more information than closed-ended questions, which only give you a yes or no answer.
The other half of the question equation is how or the way you ask. It can’t be a question you already know the answer to like your mom asked, “What did you forget?” knowing full well you left your lunch at home. It can’t have an accusatory tone – “Why did you do that?” or “What were you thinking?” It can’t be a leading question either – “What if you did it my way?”
Here’s an example I hope will help. Charlie is a project manager. He’s come to you because he’s having a hard time getting people to hit their deadlines. You’ve been managing projects your entire career. Immediately, you think of three things Charlie can do to resolve this situation. But, you’re going to try this question thing and so you sit back and ask in a supportive, curious tone. “Charlie, what have you tried so far?” Oh, okay and that hasn’t worked. “What might be the barriers for the team?” Good, “What else?” Okay, “How might you help remove those barriers?” Great! “What’s your next step?”
Make sense? How willing are you to try this questioning technique the next time you need to help someone on your team?