Good Leaders don't answer questions

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Lightbulbs, Newton's Cradle
Time after time, I talk to my business owner clients about how they handle situations in which their employees ask them questions. Invariably, they will answer the questions in the most expeditious manner in order to keep things going quickly.

This ends up being a short-term thinking strategy-- by answering questions in this manner, they are actually crippling their employees and enabling dependence on themselves. This might sound attractive from a job security point-of-view, but what entrepreneur in their right mind wants job security?

Do you want them to always have to depend on you to get things done, or do you want them to start thinking for themselves and taking ownership and pride in what they do?

When employees can be certain, they can count on you for any minute question comes into their head, you won’t have a life and your business will only grow to the size where you can handle all the issues that come up.

The only way to turn this around is to STOP ANSWERING QUESTIONS.

You could say that a leader is someone who provides answers, but a great leader is someone who helps others to find the answers. As many of us have heard before, "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."
When faced with a problem, do you instinctively try to give an answer or do you ask them the questions that will help them to come up with the answers themselves?

you discover nothing edward demingYour answer has a lot to do with just how large your business can become and how much of a life you have.

You need to enable, encourage and promote an environment where they can find the answers to the problems instead of being dependent on you for all the solutions.
It is much harder to ask questions then to give answers but the long term value to yourself and your people is infinitely greater.

Here are a couple of questions that might help you out the next time they come to you with questions:

  • What exactly is the problem?
  • What caused this?
  • How is this affecting us?
  • What is holding us back?
  • What should it look/function/be like?
  • If you could start over again what would it look like?
  • What kind of a solution are you looking for?
  • How would you handle this?
And of course, the old favorite that can be overused-- but in the right context it is the best question out there.

Why?

Make them come back with a solution in addition to the problem, It's fine if for a time they want to check their thinking against you but they shouldn't learn to be dependent on you.

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