To lead we need to understand others.

We have plenty of ideas. We should understand the higher level objectives and vision better than those we lead. But to get anything great accomplished, we have to do it with and through other people. There is no other way. And while we need to clearly communicate out to others, we also need to spend a lot of time taking in their ideas and viewpoints and giving them room to operate.

To get anything great accomplished, we have to do it with and through other people

A recent HBR blog post (h/t Scott Sturke) has a helpful structure for balancing listening and directing. It recommends 3 types of coaching questions. These help us listen and guide, especially with our directs.

Each type question is more specific and probing than the last:

Pure Inquiry: Completely open ended questions. Conversation starters. Ask the question, then listen. You can put limits ahead of time (e.g. “I don’t want to talk about the shipping issues today”), but otherwise leave it open.

Example: “So, where would you like to start?”

Diagnostic Inquiry: A question that focuses the other person’s attention on a specific area. This is still open ended, but you are guiding them to think about a specific part of what they are sharing. This will show you how they approach challenges and where their strengths and weaknesses might be.

Example: “It seems like there is some tension in your team. What do you think is happening?” (Guiding them to think tension in the team and potential causes)

Confrontational Inquiry: introduce new ideas and hypothesis. This is the next level. An opportunity, for example, to guide their thinking to address a potential blind spot.

Example: “I understand your team has been under a lot of stress. How has turnover affected their ability to collaborate?”

Most of your time should be spent in Pure Inquiry and Diagnostic Inquiry

You begin the conversation more open, spending time listening well (Eye contact, empathetic). You move to Diagnostic questions to better understand the issues and opportunities. Then move to Confrontational questions only at the end to help challenge assumptions and drive better thinking.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is challenging. How do you make time to fit this in?

The article doesn’t touch on this. 1-1’s with directs seems like the obvious way to start. These are meetings you should have regularly anyway and are a great opportunity to apply this framework. As you get used to it and if you find it useful, expand to other situations with directs and then outward from there as appropriate.

Happy listening

I hope this was helpful to you. I’m writing to share the MVI’s (most valuable ideas) I come across. My current areas of learning and reading are in organizational effectiveness, leadership processes, and subscription business models. Please signup for alerts if you’re interested in these topics and reach out if you have comments or opportunities

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