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I’m often asked where a leader should begin in their growth as a leader and in their quest to have a greater influence on their team.  I’m always intrigued by the question and will ask them where they think they should start.  The answers include…

  • Better communication skills
  • Handling difficult people and situations
  • Developing vision for the future
  • Developing a leadership presence

These are just a few of a long list that are often cited as the place to start.  After listening to what they think, I kindly submit that you can’t lead someone you don’t know.  Knowing the people you lead is the first and possibly the most impactful thing you can do as a leader.  To know them, you must be committed to entering their world and entering their world starts with taking the time to ask good questions and listen well.

This is so simple, but so rarely done.  Why don’t leaders ask more questions and listen more deeply?  It’s a problem of assumptions. When you assume, you don’t ask and when you don’t ask, you make incorrect conclusions about who the person is, what their experiences are and the nature of the challenges they face.

People and their experiences are the same and vastly different all at the same time.  Take the human face.  Everyone has one, yet no two are alike.  These vast differences between two human faces pale in comparison to the difference in their personalities, experiences, values, opinions to just name a few internal dimensions.

You will be able to relate to me generally, but you will not be able to truly lead me without knowing me.  For leadership to be effective, to make great (no just good) decisions and to build the kind of influence that results in and your team’s full engagement, loyalty, commitment and love, the principle to follow is simple: Ask, don’t assume.

Here’s a line of questions that will allow you to know both the person better and the situation at hand.

  1. What? – Always ask those you lead to define what they mean.  Words and concepts mean different things to different people.  Their use of the phrase “big problem” means one thing to them and another to you. You’re not serving them or the problem well by applying your definition to the phrase.  Asking allows you to appropriately respond to the situation and gives you important data about the person to better lead them.
  2. How? – Always ask for further clarification by getting a real example. A real example will provide you with a vivid picture of the person’s world, how they see things and how they respond.  When the “big problem” is raised to you, gather as much data as possible on how the person experienced the “big problem” and how they see the full picture of the situation.
  3. Why? – Ask to understand the “why” behind their response to the situation or to the people involved.  You’re asking them to share what was behind their choices, their words and the things they did.  This provides further data about the problem, but provides an even greater insight about the person.

The gains of asking and not assuming are two-fold.  One, you get to know the person which qualifies you to lead them and two, by given the gift of questions and listening, trust in built and influence grows.


Who will you get to know today?

What assumptions about a person or situation will you ask about today?

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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