When coaching the folks that I work with, in particular, a big one for me is getting them to stop trying to answer every question that comes along. Leaders should learn to keep their mouths shut at certain times — Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations called it, “Let the silence do the heavy lifting.” That’s what I teach my clients as an executive coach.
As an executive you don’t have to be a Mr. or Mrs. Answer Person. It is easier, and more effective, to go back to just listening rather than talking. You see the linkage in those two?
The problem is, we get our ego wrapped around it. We want to provide an answer. We’re trained to provide answers. It makes us look good. But it is also an ego issue. Good leaders know how to listen and listen “until it hurts.” That’s how you develop your people.
Then it’s about asking questions. You have to know how to ask questions and what questions to ask. But the piece on the knowing when to ask is more important.
If you’ve learned the skills of asking questions — the listening and asking — that’s the confidence of knowing how. That puts additional arrows in your quiver. The courage of knowing when, however, is how you pull those arrows out of your quiver and knowing when to use it to get the biggest results.
For me, the wisdom of asking questions is not only the confidence of knowing how to ask a question, but it’s also the courage of knowing when to ask a question. It’s also knowing when to stay silent.
You don’t ask a question every time. You do it when it’s right as a leader to do it, not as a manager. Or, if you’re moving from a manager to a leader, take your time and see what you need to ask those tough questions. Sometimes you ask and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you need to keep your mouth shut and let your employees provide the answers.