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Managers: enough already with the questions

In the first four parts of this six-part series on building an entrepreneurial culture, I talked about finding the right team (seeking out those who exhibit competitiveness, eliminating MBAs and favouring those who feel a sense of self-determination), as well as structuring individualized incentive plans and giving each member wide operational freedom to achieve his or her goals.

Now, how do you manage these thoroughbreds?

It has become popular among management theorists to encourage leaders to ask a lot of questions, instead of giving orders.

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I agree that asking the occasional, provocative question can be an effective form of leadership, but I think too many managers have bastardized the theory into a form of interacting with juniors that results in every comment coming out of a manager's mouth being a question.

Questions are followed by more questions, and high-performing employees start to get frustrated with being treated like children and forced to play a game they can't win.

To get the most out of the entrepreneurs on your staff, focus more on sharing experiences than asking questions.

The Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) – one of the largest groups of peer-to-peer mentoring forums for entrepreneurs in the world – focuses on teaching its members to share experiences, rather than give advice or ask veiled or leading questions.

After all, the formation of a manager's opinion is based on personal interpretation of his or her own experiences.

Rather than asking a litany of questions that makes the entrepreneur feel as though he or she is on the witness stand, simply share your own experience without drawing conclusions or offering advice.

Entrepreneurs will feel as if you are treating them as peers, not subordinates, which is important.

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High-performing entrepreneurs are a slightly unstable chemical concoction of ego, competitiveness and drive. Managing them requires a light touch, and sharing experiences can be a way to communicate your message without having the horse bolt from the stable.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Next: Motivation for a short attention span

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released in April.

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