A great mantra for all of us as coaches and not an easy one to adopt. We see this in each CIT — great leaders coming into the program with years of experience, finely tuned problem solving skills and an urge to move at the speed of light. These old and effective habits make the shift to more ask and less tell a daunting one for most. Yet whether a coach, a great leader, or both, there is plenty of evidence this mantra is worth adopting.
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, uncovers this feature in his research on what makes a leader a great one. He found the great leaders ask a lot of questions — they are Socratic in their approach and this leads them to brutal facts that are sometimes hard to face as well as lots of new and valuable ideas. Collins encourages leaders to increase their ‘questions to statements ratio’ by having a colleague help them track this and set a goal of doubling the questions ratio over the course of a year.
We had a great author call a couple of months back with Edgar Schein — featuring his new book on Humble Inquiry — and he, too, underlines how essential it is in a world of ‘tell and do’ to consciously shift our stance as leaders and coaches and lean into the ‘ask’ more often. He writes:
“Subordinates know lots of things that would make the place work better or safer that they for various reasons withhold. If you survey them and ask ‘why aren’t you telling your boss what is really going on, they’ll say 1) he shoots the messengers, 2) I used to tell him but he never really took any interest in it, or 3) I tell him but they never fix anything so I no longer have any incentive to tell.’ Now, if I’m right and that is the problem, the only way to cure that is for the boss to change his behavior, to go to that subordinate and engage in humble inquiry.”