Do You Ask the Right Questions as an Effective Leader?
February 11, 2015
Many of us grew up believing business and organizational answers live in those people with the most seniority and the most tenure (i.e., knowledge is—or was—power). In today’s dynamic landscape, where hierarchies are being flattened and influence is being democratized, the definition of knowledge, credibility, and success is being re-defined, re-built, and re-located, nearly every day.
As the emerging diversity of leadership ideals continues to change the business world, powered especially by a question-asking Millennial generation, leaders are looking for tactics to not only engage employees, but also retain talent. One of the immediate actions leaders can take is to recast their purpose as question-makers, instead of question-takers.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of a powerful question, you likely know personally and professionally how they have lasting catalytic effects. A much higher percentage of people than ever before want to feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and HeardSM in the workplace, and they crave the workplace culture of mutual questioning, centered on the goal of authenticity for ALL employees, regardless of level.
Ask yourself: What motivates you? What role would you feel most energized by? What do you consider your best and highest use—and does your professional ecosystem align to it?
Are leaders allowed, or even encouraged, to ask these questions? Is it a private process or public? If leaders choose to make these questions heard in public, is that acceptable? Is that how we think of our leaders today?
Only 13% of American employees report feeling engaged in the workplace, but as leadership consultant Steve Satterwhite points out, a marginally better percentage of leaders report feeling engaged: only 19%. There is a crisis in the leadership ranks, as well.
At Jennifer Brown Consulting, we educate leaders on how they can approach employee engagement differently, through proactively inviting diversity and exhibiting inclusive behaviors. These skills can be built in part through the asking of effective and powerful questions.
It starts with asking yourself, as a leader, a few hard-hitting questions as a critical opportunity to make more intentional choices about your workplace experience. Be a question-maker by starting with these first three questions:
1. Are you putting on your oxygen mask first?
Great leaders know they have to model the behavior they expect in their team. The same applies to asking themselves the hard questions first. In airline emergency procedures, you must put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. The same applies in learning to lead from your authentic persona, as well as developing your awareness of the authenticity in others.
Learn how to question yourself before learning how to pose questions with your team. Ask yourself: Are you being authentic to your true self?
Of course, you may not be able to answer right away. As inquiry expert Warren Berger has said: “The question must be lived with; over time it may be expanded, then honed and refined.”
Find time in your own workday to reflect on your purpose and your mission separate from your company mandate. How does your answer fit with what you want? How can you find meaningful change? Will you model this behavior before asking your employees to model it? How does all of this exploration and commitment to authenticity jive with the company mission?
2. Are you willing to take a risk?
Berger notes that questions can seem like indecision in the business world—which can be uncomfortable and even risky. This assumption needs to change. In many ways, entrepreneurs like myself have the freedom to be authentic in uncertainty, and ask questions for a living.
This everyday flexibility is why I became an entrepreneur, but our larger clients face challenges with “managing complexity in a time of uncertainty” in traditional hierarchies.
Large organizations and companies are slowly changing leadership structures to be faster, leaner, and more diverse to reflect the changing workplace. Many emerging leaders, managers, and even C-suite executives are learning to understand that innovation and creativity take time—and risk.
This is not just business risk, but also the personal risk of striving for greater authenticity and inclusiveness, both behind the scenes and in one-on-one interactions—and then publicly as leaders. Only when we address this motivational core, with the necessary courage, will innovation and creativity be possible.
3. Are you willing to make authenticity a business practice?
In almost 10 years leading Jennifer Brown Consulting, I continue to evolve as a founder and CEO towards greater knowledge of my own truth—or “best and highest use.” I built my company on our mission: if you demonstrate a culture of being Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and HeardSM, you have no choice but to be authentic with your employees.
But striving to be committed to the authenticity of yourself and others in the workplace is not always the quickest means to the end. It’s a priority value, and a balancing act that involves “going slow to go fast.” By making an investment in noticing how I feel best aligned and most inspired, as well as how others align with their work, and whether they are energized and tapping into their discretionary effort, I know I get closer to giving my best—and getting their best.
The headlines tell us every day of the leadership crisis. Talent is leaving. People are leaving. The first step in solving for employee engagement—and leader engagement—is asking ourselves these questions. Then we have to prepare to ask our teams, and to listen for their answers.
If you’re interested in learning more about strategic consulting on authenticity and better leveraging your company’s existing diversity, and the skills needed to build more inclusive work environments where all kinds of talent feel welcomed to serve their best and highest use, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-written by Jennifer Brown, CEO and Founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting