“I was getting ready to quit… everything was just too unbearable… it felt like nothing was under my control” - one of the managers told me during Leadership training.
“I’m glad to see you are still here! It sounds like your team has been doing much better in the last few months” - I responded a few months later.
“Yes! My organization's metrics have been improving: productivity went up, the number of fires we needed to put out has gone down significantly and the whole team is much happier and more engaged!”
What enabled this manager to go from “almost-quitting” to “outperforming his goals"?
The power of inquiry.
Successful leaders I’ve worked with realize the dangers of a dictatorial style of telling, despite how lucrative the short-term benefits might seem (i.e. efficiency, progress) and especially how devastating the long-term effects turn out to be (i.e. turnover, costly rework and mistakes).
The approach that makes a huge difference is using questions when developing your employees, instead of telling them what they need to do.
Why do so many leaders get it wrong?
It isn’t enough to rephrase statements in the form of the question or lead the witness towards predetermined answers. You have to be able to let go of your desire to fully control the outcome and instead become comfortable with and curious about the choices of your employees, which paradoxically gets you closer to the positive outcome you envisioned.
The harder your grip, the more things slip away; the more relaxed the grip, the more consistent and positive are the results.
How do we utilize the power of inquiry?
“I was getting ready to quit and because my numbers were getting worse, I expected more and more people to tell me what to do” - the manager explained.
Instead, the executive leader relaxed the grip by asking the manager what the biggest issues were and what he (the manager) thought he could do differently to resolve them. For the first time in a while, his opinion really mattered and he was given the power to control his situation with encouragement and support, instead of being given action items, deepening the feeling of loss of control.
"I didn't realize exactly how he was able to make me feel empowered and change my perspective until I took your training... and now I can help my employees the same way!"
Curiosity as a Foundation for Leadership
Regardless of which leadership program or coaching class you've taken, all techniques and models tend to become mechanical over time - you go through the motions and start noticing the impact of that model disappear.
The best way to preserve that impact is to focus on being genuinely curious with your employee and their perspectives, growth and learning, especially during pressure situations. Just like a great parent would with a child, or a partner with a significant other, leaders who are able to stay curious about the future and remain fascinated with their employees as human beings, also achieve better performance at work and greater fulfillment in their personal lives.
What helps you as a leader to stay genuinely curious in pressure situations? Comment below.