When our daughter was 13 (she is 20 now) I learned what may be my most valuable leadership lesson to date – lead with questions. Unfortunately, without this skill leaders can actually stunt the growth of their followers.
Teenagers have a way of making parents wonder, “what were you thinking?” or, “why were you not thinking?” It’s a normal part of the process. What matters most if we want to effect behavior is our response to them.
This is where my wife was a master. If our daughter did something that didn’t make since to me or I thought was below an appropriate standard of behavior, my default was to make it VERY CLEAR how far off the mark she was and how exactly she needed to respond, think and behave in the future. In my mind I was helping. In reality, I was teaching her she wasn’t capable of succeeding in life without me thinking for her.
My wife took a different approach; she led with questions. She would ask sincere, non-judgmental, curiosity-driven questions to help our daughter think more fully into her world. This would lead her to come to her own conclusions in her timing. This required a lot of patience but it preserved the relationship and spoke worth and value into our daughter.
My wife was wiser than me. She knew we had to meet our daughter where she was and that if we didn’t she would not follow us at all. It has been said many times that “a leader who doesn’t have followers is simply out for a walk.” Many parents and organizational leaders feel this way frequently!
Our daughter talked to my wife. She confided in her. She trusted her. My wife was an emotionally safe place for our daughter. Consequently, my wife had access and influence with her. I did not. Moreover, had I not keyed in on what was happening and changed my ways, I would have driven our daughter to rebellion (at least from me) in no time.
My wife’s approach to leadership is so powerful because it maintained the weight of ownership of our teenaged daughter’s life exactly where it needed to be – with our daughter. This matters because if someone doesn’t get to “own it’” they won’t “own it.”
The application of this is clear if you have kids but it goes beyond that. Leadership is leadership and relationships are relationships. As parents, we want our kids to leave the house ready to carry the weight of their lives and become excited contributors to society. As marketplace leaders we want our teams and staff to own the mission, be excited about it, and take the initiative to grow as they carry our vision.
One of the primary jobs of a leader is to create environment and culture. People grow in an environment in which they are believed in and the best is assumed about them. This can’t be lip service. They must be given responsibility and authority. One without the other leaves leaders frustrated. People disengage or even rebel (often passive agressively) in an environment that is perceived to be controlling. They feel invalidated.
Do your employees avoid you or quickly approach you?
Do they speak up with passionate ideas or simply nod in agreement?
Does your spouse open up to you or regularly withdraw from you?
Do your kids talk to you about the important things going on their lives?
Your problem may not be your ideas but your approach. Leading with questions and listening in return is a huge part of this.
Ready for the real heart check?
According to Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, “listening starts with wanting to hear.”
The good news is it’s not too late. As Jim Rohn said, “you can’t change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.”
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