I was coaching an executive the other day who was working on being more inquisitive, and was struggling with her effort to solicit and be open to her employees’ input, opinions and suggestions.

We had agreed that she would keep a log after our last coaching session to capture how many times she asked open ended questions (what do you think we should do in response to the customer’s request?) vs. directive, or leading questions (so you are going to call that customer and tell him we will deliver by next tuesday, right?)

So the good news is, she was honest — and the bad news is she was honest …she had not asked many open ended questions that week.

Sound familiar?

Most senior leaders have been rewarded and have moved up in their careers because they are very good at coming up with answers (usually effective answers) … especially under pressure. This particular executive was known for turning around and helping organizations move out of crisis.

So – why change?

In the case of the executive I was coaching, she was at risk of losing a very valuable employee who felt that her ideas, opinions and suggestions (often very different than the executive’s) weren’t being considered and her deep experience wasn’t being appreciated or leveraged. Also – the executive had successfully moved the organization out of crisis and now the focus was on rebranding. So – she definitely had skin in the game around building and applying a new set of leadership skills.

So.. we discussed that being inquisitive wasn’t likely to come natural to her, she would need to practice and be bit uncomfortable. Similar to how it feels when those of us who are right handed have to use our left hand to write — using our left hand feels weird and the steadiness of our left hand isn’t very good at first.

Which didn’t mean that she wasn’t going to be able to use her right hand anymore — as there were still going to be times where a quick decision or solution was required that she was best equipped to handle. BUT that engaging her employees and others during this exciting time for the organization might be worth strengthening her left hand for …to better enable the creation of a new and different set of answers and solutions – which in turn, would strengthen her team’s capabilities and ultimately strengthen the organization.

Feel free to share when NOT having all the answers worked well for you or others, and please reach out to me if you would like assistance strengthening your left hand.

Sharon Moura
VP, IT Transformation & Strategy at Tyco
Hi Lisa, I am working on the same skill. It is really tough because as leaders we feel compelled to have all the answers. However, our real power is leading thru others and getting the best out of everyone on the team. I used an open ended question recently with a peer helping him think thru to future state – “When the event is complete what behavior change will show tangible evidence that it was successful?”. It created great discussion from my peer and the whole team and we uncovered great insights and next steps from it. I will definitely keep practicing.