Have you ever had a boss who asked you such a profound question that it stopped you in your tracks and caused you to think differently about who you are and what you’re doing?
But unfortunately, there are very few leaders who have this kind of impact. Most are eager to dispense advice and offer solutions instead of ask questions that cause others to think through a problem and come up with their own answer.
Out of the Question, authors Guy Parsons and Allan Milham make the distinction between KNOWER leaders and LEARNER leaders.
I love those terms because they accurately describe two very different styles of leadership.
Leaders who come from a Knower position feel the need to have all the answers and be perceived as the expert. Their egos are front and center because they’re concerned about being right. As a result, they’re often closed to new ideas and feel threatened by alternative explanations or solutions.
In contrast, Learner leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers. They recognize that others have important insights and experiences to contribute, so these leaders ask questions from a place of humility that encourage openness and sharing. They have genuine curiosity and are eager to solicit input that builds a solution much greater than just one person’s thinking.
This seems like common sense, but if you were to follow around managers in a lot of workplaces, you’re likely to observe a lot more controlled, closed discussions than those that invite opinions and ideas.
QUESTIONS are the first key!
Questions can encourage others to participate or shut them down.
Questions can build engagement, commitment and momentum or deflate the most enthusiastic employee.
And it’s not just the words you say, it’s how you say them that elicits a positive or negative reaction from those you’re interacting with.
Whether you’re at work or at home, the questions you ask as a LEARNER communicate to others that you really want to hear what they have to say. The positive result is that they feel valued and appreciated. They’re more likely to feel safe in being honest, especially when they disagree with you or want to express concerns.
PAUSING is the second key!
After someone approaches you…or after they’ve responded to a question…don’t be in a hurry to jump in. Be comfortable with giving them time and space to THINK.
They may need to process information they’ve just heard. And not everyone is quick to articulate their ideas. Their brains may be busy evaluating alternatives and pondering consequences.
Also, apply the PAUSE to your own response to a situation. Reacting instantly does not always lead to a positive result. Thinking about how you can create instead of react leads to a better, more thoughtful response.
Observe people interacting, and you’ll see that most people seem to have a low tolerance for silence. If there’s a slight pause in the conversation, they jump in to fill the space. And yet, these silences can be powerful for both parties.
If you’re interested in taking your leadership skills to a higher level, read this thought-provoking book and commit to being a LEARNER leader who makes excellent use of QUESTIONS and PAUSES.
“Ask yourself how often, when things don’t go according to plan, you pause to reflect and learn before charging forward.” - Guy Parsons and Allan Milham in Out of the Question