In continuing our series on leadership myths, here’s #3:

Many people believe that great leaders are just better at coming up with the right answers. They have a knack or natural instinct for leadership because they were born with superior talents, insights, intelligence, skills, or charisma. These leaders are thought to be rare; they are able to avoid self-doubt and confusion and somehow come up with all the right answers.

After all, isn’t this what we are taught in school? It’s important to be right. We are judged as “good” by how right we are on tests and how well we follow rules. Being “good” and being “right” has “value.” Having the right answers is so very important for those first eighteen years of our lives while we are being taught and graded in school.

Our school leaders are perfect examples of those leaders that we have trusted to have all the right answers. If someone already has the right answers, how often do we ask questions? Leaders in the workplace are often appointed to those roles because they have had the right answers in their previous roles.

  • A salesperson is great at selling, so they are promoted to sales manager and lead the sales force.
  • A researcher does fantastic, value-generating research, so they are promoted to director of research in charge of managing and leading the team.
  • A technical guru is highly skilled at their job, so they are asked to lead the entire technical team.

Do you notice this pattern? Having the right answers ends up being viewed as one of the top qualities of a “good leader.” This leader, who has always been valued for their right answers, may then tell their team members what to do and how to do it.

FACT #3: Leaders Seek to Ask the Best Questions

How do you feel when your leader tells you what to do and how to do it? Do you like that?

The truth is that no one likes to be told what to do all of the time. In fact, we don’t even like to tell ourselves what to do. Think about it… when you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that.” or “I really should go to that meeting.” Do you like that? Does it motivate you to take positive action? In most cases, it evokes negative emotions and feelings of burden and obligation. Oh, sure, sometimes we do what we tell ourselves we should do, but we may do it begrudgingly. Also, telling narrows our focus and gives us fewer options and choices. When we narrow the perspectives of those that we lead, we are inviting amygdala hijacks or defensive responses. When the unexpected happens, the brain reacts to protect you. It’s a natural response that leads to fight, flight, or freeze and shifts our focus away from generating value (to “protecting” us).

Recent research discussed in Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, focuses on the power of questions. Think about this… answers (being told what to do) usually elicit more questions. The listener tends to ask, “Is that correct?” or “Where did they come up with that information?” In the mind of the listener, it ends up being a debate, especially if the listener doesn’t agree. Questions, on the other hand, elicit answers and within those answers are the strategies and actions for carrying out the tasks.

Questions are the answer. Rather than seeking to have all of the right answers, arm yourself with as many questions as possible.

Here are a few types of questions that you might find helpful:

Click the image above to download your Leadership Questions Cheat Sheet.

A leader is responsible for fostering a growth mindset in others by asking questions, not by having all the right answers. This isn’t always how our brains have been trained. It takes practice like any other skill.

Bonus question: Do you know what questions you could be asking yourself? Are you good at SELF-leadership? Want more information… stay tuned for the next newsletter, or sign up to be notified when it’s released by clicking here.