To Question or To Answer: What Does a Great Leader Do?

A common fallacy is that great leaders never have to ask questions – they inherently have all the answers.

But authentic leaders know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Impactful Leaders Realize the Power in Asking Questions

Jim Schleckser writing in Inc. compared a leader’s capacity to answer every question directed to them to that of a switchboard operator, trying to make the right connections to solve all the organization’s issues. And that, he says, not only limits leadership, but limits the organization’s growth as well.

Bold, impactful leaders know the tremendous power in asking questions. By asking the right questions, team members learn to strategize on their own to solve issues. And in this discovery, they strengthen their ability to figure out problems and heighten their self-esteem in the process: and that’s a win-win situation for growth and expansion.

“Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more.”

-John C. Maxwell

But there are times when leaders must ask questions – not only as part of personal growth, but of leadership growth as well.

And what are the common questions successful leaders oftentimes ask?

Most Leaders Will Relate to These Common Questions

As a Forbes Coaches Council Expert Panel wrote, there’s no shame in a successful business professional asking questions. Yet some leaders feel embarrassed and conflicted, realizing that others look to them for answers.

The Council discovered oftentimes many leaders question the same issues. Among the most commonly asked questions leaders faced:

  1. What do I do now? Leaders often ask this when their companies are flourishing, as they ponder the future.
  2. What do I need to change? Everyone realizes how difficult change is. Authentic leaders accept (and welcome) change when necessary to achieve strategic goals.
  3. Is it normal to feel like an imposter? Many leaders feel that others see inflated images of their abilities. Imposter syndrome is all too common.
  4. What if I don’t have all the answers? Appearing to have all the answers makes some leaders feel invulnerable. True leaders know they don’t have the answers to all questions…no one does.
  5. Is self-doubt normal? As the Forbes Council noted, all leaders have their own self-doubts – and think they’re the only ones who do. Not so. It’s a part of being human.
  6. How do I respond to sexist comments? Many leaders admit to being caught off guard and wish they had been better prepared.

Most leaders will be able to relate to these questions.

The realization that other successful leaders have the same internal dialogue may better enable us to reach out to others and share thoughts and reflections. The result? Deeper, more meaningful partnerships built on authenticity.

Creating Effective Dialogue in the New Virtual Reality

Whether it’s asking questions or providing answers, many regular face-to-face meetings have been replaced by a virtual environment as part of the new era of social distancing. For some, it’s an awkward way of communication.

Melissa Raffoni writing in Harvard Business Review notes that not only is it more difficult to ‘read’ people via on-line meetings, but distractions can easily pull people’s attention away in many different directions. All is not lost, Reffoni says – it’s a matter of requiring new skills, whether a bit of technical know-how or re-thinking strategy.

She offers 5 questions to ask as we lead in the new virtual environment:

  1. Are we being strategic enough?
  2. How up to date are our communication plans?
  3. Review employee responsibilities in the new virtual environment: some people may thrive online; others need more support. Are our employees thriving on-line? If not, what do they need to flourish?
  4. How well are we focusing – and communicating – about the big picture?
  5. How can we further strengthen company culture?

Raffoni quotes Michael Porter from “What Is Strategy?”: “New [strategic] positions open up because of change…new needs emerge as societies evolve.”

Here’s a tip: Not all questions need to be directed outward. Most impactful leaders realize the importance of self-reflection, of time spent alone asking ourselves key questions. This can be a deep, profoundly insightful way to learn more about ourselves and how we interpret our experiences.

We all realize now that there is a new normal in life as a result of the pandemic. What is that new normal? It’s a realization that there isn’t one. What a paradox, right?

Bold leaders realize that there isn’t just one new normal, ask meaningful questions, seek impactful answers, and through their resilience, adapt to new ways of doing business. Today, may we all ask the important questions to spark great change.

“The little girl who asks, “Why is the sky blue?” becomes the woman who changes the world.”

-Sheryl Sandberg

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Resilience is a Secret Superpower for Leaders to Navigate Adversity

The new year 2020 barely got started and suddenly the world was thrust into pandemic panic. None of us had been there before.

Our personal lives were determined by the new norm of social distancing and economically, businesses scrambled to meet demands that strained their resources. It was traumatizing.

And now, nearly six months later, we are getting back on our feet. We have faced that our old, cherished routines are history. We are tiptoeing into new territory.

And how we got through the tumult – and are continuing to adjust to our new lives – taught us an important lesson: no one really knows what is going to happen next. But how we adapt, how we survive and thrive, is linked to our resiliency, that ability to bounce back from difficult times and move forward.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

― Steve Maraboli

Resiliency: It’s an Individual Trait. And It’s Key to Leadership.

Leaders are facing unprecedented times as their leadership skills are tested daily…moment by moment, even.

Now more than ever, resilience is key to impactful leadership. How well we can navigate adversity – especially in these times – has lasting impacts on not only ourselves, but on the people and organizations we lead.

How resilient we are is tied to our past, the experts say. Eilene Zimmerman writes in the New York Times that every study done in the past half century shows that one significant factor impacts our resilience in life: our personal relationships, especially with parents and primary caregivers, and the quality of that bond.

Zimmerman quoted Boston University School of Medicine professor of psychiatry Bessel van der Kolk, who has been researching post-traumatic stress disorder for nearly 50 years. “How loved you felt as a child is a great predictor of how you manage all kinds of difficult situations later in life,” stated van der Kolk, who suggests the first 20 years of life are especially critical.

Leading Effectively During Challenging Times

Essentially, resilience is a set of skills that is often learned, writes Zimmerman. Professor emeritus of psychiatry, PTSD and Resilience at Yale University School of Medicine Steven M. Southwick explains that stress is not all bad:

“If you can cope today with all that’s happening in the world around you, then when you are on the other side of it, you’ll be stronger.”

-Dr. Steven M. Southwick

Leading is a privilege, writes Dede Henley in Forbes. And with the world still adjusting to the new world that the pandemic birthed, leaders need to navigate through the myriad of dynamics presented in this new way of life.

BOLD Leaders, This is Our Time to Shine.

Our resiliency will determine how well we can lead others through these demanding times. As Henley notes, people are looking to see how leaders react and respond. They are waiting for their leaders to lead by example.

According to Zimmerman, highly resilient people share common traits:

  • a strong moral compass
  • accept what they cannot change & focus on what they can
  • positive, realistic outlooks
  • belief in a higher power
  • have a concern for others
  • find a meaning in life
  • are part of a support system

In his research, Dr. Southwick found that many resilient people don’t keep banging their head against the wall – they accept what they can’t change and work to do what is in their sphere of influence. His studies with former prisoners of war found that despite their immense suffering, they went on to find new meaning in their lives.

To Lead BOLDLY in Unprecedented Times…

Henley lists his five suggestions for effective collaboration:

  1. Trust and respect are vital – especially during these times. Be available and empathize with what others are experiencing.
  2. Meet with your team and share your meaning, your purpose together. Explain your “why” to increase awareness of what matters.
  3. Learn by mistakes. Instead of judgements, make corrections and find even better ways to approach problems.
  4. Leverage the power of gratitude. Let your team know how much they are appreciated.
  5. Sharpen physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual competencies. Observe the health of those around you. Intellectually, confirm the information and data you are given. Emotionally, don’t resist fear or unhappiness, both of which are natural and often, necessary to growth. Spiritually, discover what brings you peace & joy – and take time for that as often as you can.

The pages of our human history often note centuries of tragedies and difficult times. And yet, there are countless stories of hope and survival and new meanings.

The pages we are writing today will someday be in the history books. What legacy will your leadership leave?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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