Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership

microphone ask

“The wise man doesn’t give us the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

For years I’ve been leading a four-session training course, covering communication styles, giving and receiving feedback, time-management and people management, aimed at helping newly appointed leaders in a government agency develop effective leadership skills. 

In one session, participants mentioned how often direct reports come to them in crises wanting to be told what to do. The decisions made are sometimes life and death. So when direct reports came to the new leaders for help, they usually told them what to do and in some cases did it for them. Even though doing so was frustrating and distracting, the new leaders felt that “helping” their direct reports saved time and avoided trouble. But does it really? Or does it create dependent workers who don’t learn to think for themselves and don’t learn to trust their own decisions?

I suggested if they wanted a solid, capable team (and to avoid burn-out), they needed to spend extra time coaching their direct reports by asking them what THEY thought should be done.

The next week, one of the participants reported a huge success. One of her direct reports came to her in a panic. “I thought about what you said last week and I asked her how she thought she should handle things.  It really helped her to calm down. I made her realize that she did have the answers. I couldn’t believe it worked!” When I asked if it took up a lot of time, she said “No!”

Think of the ROI. The time you invest instilling confidence in your direct report will yield amazing returns–confident, self-reliant staff are more efficient, effective, and engaged.

There are definitely going to be times where you need to provide answers BUT next time someone comes to you wanting to be told what to do, try using these –  Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership questions first.

  •  “I understand this is a stressful situation and needs immediate action, how do YOU think we should handle it?”
  •  “It sounds like you’re overwhelmed. I get it. There’s a lot going on. What do you see next steps being?”
  •  In the event you get the answer “I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking you!”  You could try:

o   “What would you say if you did know?”

o   “I’ve seen you handle similarly complicated situations before like when you (give a specific example) I believe you have some idea of next steps.”

Telling your staff or direct reports what to do is not leading, it’s dictating. When teams and organizations feel dictated to, they can develop two mindsets: The Sheep Mindset or the Rebel Mindset–neither of which makes for a thriving, productive, or enjoyable workplace.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” General S. Patton

Here’s to developing a great workforce. If you need help, take a look at my Capability Statement and contact me for information on training sessions.

Author: Robyn Hatcher

Robyn Hatcher, owner and CEO of SpeakEtc. is a dynamic keynote speaker, communication expert author. She has cultivated a winning formula to transform mediocre communication skills into potent business gold. Robyn has transformed the careers of thousands of business leaders through corporate programs, private coaching, and interactive presentations. Using her 15 plus years in the entertainment industry and her experience as a certified Neural Linguistic Programming practitioner, she inspires. She invigorates. She leaves you with tangible skills you can apply the very next day.

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