Leadership is a learning game for all of us.  It requires us to be adaptable, coachable and flexible during challenging and changing times.

One of the key areas that requires a lot of discipline from leaders and managers is the ability to ask rather than tell.  It is very hard not to critique or tell others how they should do something given that  a lot of us come from strong technical backgrounds.  This training has meant that we hone in on what is wrong, what needs fixing and what the solution may be.   All done with the right intent but damagingaround our leadership impact on our organisation and others.

This is consistent with a great Steve Jobs quote which focused very heavily on this key point.  He asserted that you don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do.  You hire smart people and they bring their ideas and thoughts to what needs to be done to you.  That is, you don’t tell on the how.

The impact for people when there is lots of telling is that they either become an obedient child or they choose to challenge it.  It is not a two way exchange but rather a focus on telling to manage and control rather than engaging, facilitating, questioning and challenging to drive the best outcome for the people concerned.  It becomes a game of – I put something up to my manager and it comes back critiqued or I go to the boss and they tell me what to do.  We don’t get the best out of smart people and we don’t create an environment where staff learn, grow and improve.  We also lose sight of what we are trying to create as leaders which is an empowered and self-managed team.

So how do we engage rather than tell as leaders?  I have put down some thoughts around how you can make this shift all aligned ensuring you achieve between outcomes with your people rather than telling them what you want done.  The key points are as follows:

Ask more questions.  Focus the questions on clarifying and aligning on the why and what of you want achieved;

  • Don’t make assumptions that your team understand all aspects of what is needed.  Chances are that they have not had access to the same level of communication that you have had;
  • Work hard to build trust with your staff so that you start from the position of trust rather than fearing that they will not get it right;
  • Assist by pointing them in the right direction to examples or approaches that they could learn from but resist telling them precisely how it should be done;
  • Commit to your 1:1’s so that conversations and discussions can be had around engagement; and
  • Close the loop when having conversations.  Ask questions around whether expectations are clear, staff are clear on the why and what needs to be undertaken.

I look forward to hearing what other leaders think is important to more engaging than telling.  This shift is fundamental to being an effective leader and also engaging with staff in a manner where they are empowered and have the authority to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.