Leadership Jeopardy!

Posted  | 0 Comment(s)  |  by Kris Girrell

One of the most difficult lessons in leadership is learning how not to tell people what to do.  It seems so easy to most that if an answer is needed, the simplest thing might be to provide it.  Unfortunately, everything we know from adult learning theory suggests that doing so is the least likely to produce either learning or development. The result is that the next time the situation arises, the leader once again must provide the answer.

So we often try to teach leaders that the best development results from asking not telling.  Therein lies the problem.  New leaders, so accustomed to telling, seem to have difficulty crafting the right question – any question – that isn’t some form of yes/no producing query.  So I usually tell my coachees that they have to ask the question, the answer to which is the thing that they would really want to say. However, that is so convoluted that most people respond with a quizzical look and a “Huh?”

I found myself going down that path again today when I suddenly stopped and said “Coaching your employees is like playing Jeopardy. Your answer has to be in the form of a question!”  In this game of Leadership Jeopardy, you have been given the answer – “I’ll take Supply Management for $20, Alex.” For my client the answer was that her team had to purge their storage of any inventory older than 2008. Her challenge then was to ask the question that would get the team to say, “Well maybe if we throw away old inventory,” or something like that.  Believe it or not, it took several attempts before she came up with, “How are you going to make room for all of the new inventory?”

Granted, this is a very simple example, but the game of Leadership Jeopardy is one I play with clients nearly every day.  When you tell employees what to do, you can never be certain whether they really understand what you mean and won’t know until they do something (often not what you had asked for). The only way to be certain that they have thought the thought is to ask the right question. “I’ll take coaching for $100, Alex!”

Kris Girrell
Career Partners International

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