Does an Engaged CEO Ask or Dictate?
For years, we have been giving customized 360s to CEOs and senior leadership. However, we don’t send out a consultant to gather feedback. The participating executive does that. Prior to designing customized interviews, we invest a great deal of time learning details about each significant stakeholder relationship and business issues. We probe interpersonal relationships. We look for current and desired states. This information leads to strikingly specific and brilliantly good questions. For the executives, the immersive experience of asking these questions and respectfully listening to the answers tends to be a life-altering experience.
Why is masterful inquiry such an important skillset?
First, in building an engaged workforce, asking high-quality questions is far more effective than giving orders. That worked in the industrial based, survival and predictability-driven workplace. But, human beings are hard-wired to think about something other than themselves for about fifteen seconds. Telling people what to do will not produce engagement. Connecting with them is a far more effective method of creating buy-in, motivation and finding shared values. Stakeholders are far more driven when we connect with their needs and expectations rather than simply dictating performance. We have yet to find a better and more eloquent way than developing a strong capability in Socratic questioning.
There is a far more modern reason for masterful inquiry. The rate of change has reached such dizzying heights that truth changes in ever shorter periods of time. Author, Kevin Kelly describes how we have entered the era of “becoming.” In other words, there is no longer a set destination. Change moves at such a rapid pace we are continually becoming. This new reality requires a form of leadership that consistently gets updated truth from the stakeholders and soldiers on the frontline.
On another note, I’m too close to my personal brand and leadership style to have a steady fix on how I am perceived and how I impact others. It has been said the truth will set us free but first, it will piss us off. The more comfortable executive leaders become with feedback the more quickly they can ask questions such as, “What do I do that motivates you or de-motivates you?” “What can I do to become a more effective leader?” These questions require a certain degree of humility to ask but the answers actually build better leaders. Over time, I have also found that the very transaction of asking our colleagues to become active participants in our growth produces a whole new level of bonding.
Many executives have developed a need to be right. When that need is accompanied by inadequate inquiry skills, the results are dreadful. The most impressive leaders that I know are absolutely clear on their mission, vision, and purpose. But, they demonstrate real humility and skill in making it safe, even compelling, to tell the truth, find the truth and live in the truth. Often, that deliverable occurs just in the nick of time.
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