This is a excerpt from G3: The Gift of You, Leadership, and Netgiving published with permission from author Tim Cork, ©2013. He is presently the president of Straight A's Inc., an international provider of leadership development, coaching and sales training.
"The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell.
The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask."
Great leaders figure out the what and find out the why. It's the why of the what that is so critical. The why inspires and goes deeper.
Successful leaders inspire the why in their companies. [Howard] Schultz did this for Starbucks and [Steve] Jobs for Apple. The why gets the internal customers – your employees – fired up and excited about working for a company that stirs the emotion.
It isn't easy to get everyone to buy into the vision of what a company does; that's where the why should take over and make them proud to be a part of a company that makes a difference. When your employees are fired up, what do you think your customers will feel? They'll feel it, too.
People love Apple and people love Starbucks. These leaders and companies found the difference and have created fans internally and externally.
Don't tell, ask
Rudyard Kipling wrote, "I keep six honest serving-men / (They taught me all I knew); / Their names are What and Why and When / And How and Where and Who."
Ask good questions, and people will tell you what you want to tell them. They will feel good about the fact it came from them rather than you. Great leaders get this. They know that telling them denies their people the opportunity to express how they feel.
Good questions to ask are: How did you think that went? How did you feel about how that went? They will tell you. If you don't get the answer you were looking for as a leader, you can say, "Well, this is how I see it," or, "Yes, I see what you're saying, and I would like to add …"
Furthermore, people are tougher on themselves than you would be anyway. Give them a chance to critique themselves. Build from there only if you need to.
This is your opportunity to get your message in and, if necessary, give constructive feedback or reprimand. However, when you reprimand, do it in private. I shouldn't even have to say this, but unfortunately many leaders tear into employees or teams in meetings. This makes them look very unprofessional.
When all is said and done, you can ask this great question: What did you learn from that experience? This is a powerful question. These are times when you as a leader can teach and help your people and future leaders.
To tell is to take, to ask is to give
Most organizations and people are in the tell mode or take mode. Always ask first. Ask good questions. Get your people's opinions or perceptions and build from there. Ask: What do you think? How would you do this?What are your thoughts?
I end many of my e-mails with "Your thoughts?" rather than a direct question. It's polite and open. When you meet with others, find out what's important to them. Companies don't make decisions, people do.
When you start with a question, you give them the opportunity to voice what's important to them. Our tendency is to think that, when we talk, we control the situation. This is not true. The person who asks good questions and listens – whether in a court of law or a corporate setting or at home or in the community – controls the situation. Ask and listen. What a gift.
Woodrow Wilson said, "The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people." We have a tendency to tell. Why not ask, listen, and then build on what they say? It's so simple, yet very few of us do it.
Therefore it's not simple. Pause, take a breath, listen, and build. This is what G3, the art of giving, is all about.
Communication is a two-way street. What are they saying, and are they saying what they mean?
Ask great questions of others … and of yourself. Ask yourself, Am I where I thought I would be five years ago? Reflect on the last five years and look at how you've grown. Are you satisfied?
Ask how you're doing, often
Do you have a job description? Ask what your job is. What were you hired to do? Check frequently that you're doing what is expected. Check the paths you've helped carve out for your team or company. Leaders need to encourage their people to ask how they can help. Ask how yourself how you're doing. Ask how you can help others.
Your boss is your biggest customer. Your leader is your biggest customer. Ask what you need to be doing and why it is so important. …
Some good leadership questions
Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
What one thing would profoundly improve the way I work and how I live?
What needs to happen between now and the end of the next ninety days for me to feel that this is the best month/quarter of my work and personal life?
Who do I need to express appreciation to? Make a long list.
What would I like to improve, professionally and personally?
What could I be grateful for that I'm currently not grateful for?
How do I want to be remembered at my retirement party?
What will my legacy be?
Statistics tell us that 95 per cent of employees prefer to be asked questions than to be told what to do, according to Gary Cohen, author of Just Ask Leadership.
Communication always deserves to be probed. What are they saying? Are they saying what they mean? What should you say, and when, and how, and to whom? When should you respond? How should you respond? And on and on. Ask good questions and listen. The person asking the questions always controls the situation. Always!