In the face of the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, organizations are taking urgent actions, promoting employees to managerial and leadership positions faster than usual. While new leaders are rising to that challenge, many may find themselves dealing with the increasing complexity of the business world. On top of new accountabilities, they are confronting the pandemic’s aftermath and the challenges of managing teams remotely.
So, what are new leaders to do? How can you succeed and unlock a new level of team effectiveness?
Traditionally, the way we are taught to manage is by telling people what to do and ensuring they do it, training them, and introducing reward systems. We manage performance by asking questions such as:
- What next actions do you see to take?
- Are we on track to meet the project deadline?
- What roadblocks do you see in accomplishing your goal?
- What goals did you meet or exceed? Which ones, if any, fell short?
However, most performance questions focus on analyzing the past and are not designed to create a context for future accomplishments. In fact, remarkably elevated performance can be achieved if you open up a new perspective for yourself as a leader and your team.
There was a time in my career when I thought that being an expert in business was sufficient to influence people and succeed as a VP of a high-growth marketing agency. After failing to produce results by force and many subsequent years working with leadership development teams, I learned that a key role of effective leaders is to build relationships and instill a sense of ownership. To influence results, I practiced using inquiry questions that revealed what was impeding performance.
By “inquiry question,” I mean a type of question requiring others to think, reflect and discover something for themselves. Consider this inquiry: What do you think is impossible to accomplish in your current circumstances and yet it would make a real difference in your organization?
Asking these types of questions forges deeper relationships, the foundation of any accomplishment. They aid in creating an environment of trust and accountability, enabling a team to produce elevated results sustainably. A group of people who work together can become a high-functioning, aligned team.
Let’s practice inquiry-oriented questions together. When responding to the following questions, restrain from answering with the first thing that comes to mind. Re-read the question, stay with it, explore it, and write down the thoughts that occur to you. Then, choose the answer that empowers you.
- What new value did you see for yourself from a meeting or interaction with your colleagues today?
- What is missing in who you are being, that would make a difference in resolving a conflict, enabling an underperforming team member, or encouraging communication?
- What could you stop/start doing that would improve your or your team’s performance?
- What have you discovered from reading this post about the power of inquiry so far?
- What new actions do you see you can take with your team, your manager, or your family?
You may find that at first, designing and interacting with inquiry questions is not easy. That is because, throughout our lives, we rarely engage in investigative thinking. Naturally, we strive to know and find quick solutions; frankly, we do not have time for reflection. But the process of inquiring, if practiced alongside traditional business performance questions, can open a space for new kinds of relationships with your team, an elevated level of ownership from everyone involved, and greater specific and measurable business outcomes than you have hoped for.
What inquiries can you design for your team to open new possibilities and accomplish bold results?