IMAGINE working for several years at your job with a clear focus on becoming a leader in your organisation. You do all the hard work, you train and prepare and finally the big day comes: you receive a promotion, only to be quickly disappointed with your new position.
The frustration you experience is due to the fact that very few people are really prepared for this new expression of leadership.
One of the hardest transitions to make in the workplace is from a hands-on position where you do everything yourself, to a leadership position where you now must work through others to get anything done. You must use other peoples' hands to get your job done. As their hands are an extension of their thinking, you must now work with their minds to be effective in your own work.
The art of inquiry is particularly important when you are required to work through others. There are two key reasons why:
The people you are working through will unconsciously screen information before it gets to you. It is estimated that almost 50 per cent of that information is lost or distorted each time it passes through a person.
You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that if the information that defines how you view your business world is coming through two or three people, you will be at a severe disadvantage in having the most accurate and critical information at your fingertips.
What distorts the information that you, as a leader, receive? What can you do about it? Learn to ask more effective questions to make sure you get the information you need. The better the questions you ask, the clearer the information you will get.
You are not managing the actions of people anymore, but the mindsets of those doing the work. You should not be trying to govern each action; this is futile in a changing world.
You need to develop the mindsets of those you are working through with clear communication. This allows people the flexibility to choose from a variety of actions to deal with different situations. How they think about a problem or an issue is just as important as what they do about it.
Managing these two realities requires a major shift in a leader's thinking. Samuel Culbert, in his book Mind-set Management, defines this as the very heart of leadership.
He writes: "Until you know how the other person is inclined to see events and think about them, management and advice-giving are nothing more than power plays and manipulative acts
"You can tell people what you think is going on and what they need to do to operate effectively until you are blue in the face, but the only way to know what people are actually inclined to do, and that which they might be inclined to do differently based on your counsel, is to understand their mindsets before you interact with them."
One of the most underrated benefits of asking pertinent questions is the ability it gives you to understand the thinking of the people you are working with.
Developing the art of inquiry gives you the capacity to understand the mindsets of those you are working with. In doing that, you understand their values, passions and objectives; in other words, what they do, why they do it and how they get it done.
What to ask your staff
What do you think about this situation?
What are the key things you need to talk with me about and when can you make decisions on your own for this project?
When are there key decision points for this project?
What are the values we are operating from to accomplish this?
What could go wrong and what would be some options for dealing with it?
What are your strengths?
Who else might you need to help you, who has different strengths from yours?