Why Great Leaders Inspire Employees To Think For Themselves

David Norman | | Leadership Improvement

World-renown leadership pioneer Warren Bennis said, “I used to think running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don’t think that’s quite it. It’s more like jazz. There’s more improvisation.”

In my experience, leaders know how to inspire workers to higher levels. That’s what Bennis was talking about. And you’re not going to do that by providing answers. You’re going to do that by asking the tough questions.

Leaders don’t give you answers, they ask questions. Questions are better than answers; questions trump answers. If all I’m doing is providing answers for my followers, then my employees have come to rely on me for those answers. It means they don’t have to think for themselves.

We as managers answer an employee’s questions but then we don’t bring that person along. We treat them pejoratively; we treat them as a machine. We really don’t encourage that person to think or to adopt a culture. All we do is give direction. We say, “Here, go do this my way.”

Giving away the answer really doesn’t inspire that person. That’s where the problem lies.

Text book definitions of managers and leaders tend to say that managers deal with a mid-term time frame while leaders deal with the future. I don’t quite adopt that – the idea that timelines create one difference between leaders and managers. The way I think about it is that managers provide answers, leaders ask the tough questions. That’s where the powerful difference lies.

Mangers tend to get people together to achieve goals. The know how to use resources efficiently and effectively. It’s that effectiveness and efficiency that really bothers me on the manager’s side. We’re accomplishing things, tasks, tactics, and that’s what I think a manager would do. A manager can hold people accountable also doing those things, but it’s still just things. Not a lot of inspiration required.

As a leader, however, we need to bring our people into conversations, communicating with them about the future. Leadership itself is a choice. And for me a good leader is a person who asks the tough questions to make people think — make employees think instead of making them just do.

Leaders need to inspire workers to achieve more and leaders do that by asking the tough questions.

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