The Territory of Leadership is Uncertainty
Managers deal in improving the status quo. Management is about doing the same things a little better. Leaders deal in uncertainty. Leadership is about giving others the confidence to move forward, helping them believe in their own answers.
A friend of mine, Jacques, is the father of a tennis player. If she loses, he asks “when did you know you were going to lose? Why did you not stop right then?” A leader must be able to regain belief. When a team is winning, the captain can be a manager.
When the team is losing and doubts in the minds of the players, the captain must become a leader. He must take control of emotions.
First his own.
Then he must project his certainty out to the group. Leadership is emotional work. Leadership is about making sense of emotions and helping everyone reach a mental state that allows for performance.
A great leader believes in people and asks questions that help them perform.
John DeMartini talks about a transformational moment in his life. He was 17, living in a tent and surfing the beaches of Hawaii with no purpose or plan. A 93-year-old man was talking with a group on the beach. John listened. At the end John approached the man. The man asked him about his life and what he wanted to do. John found himself answering that he would be a teacher. The man listened and when he finished, looked him in the eyes and said “This is going to happen. You are going to be a great teacher. What will you do next?” The man said these words with such conviction and belief that John knew it would happen. John’s goal in life is to do the same for a 17-year-old when he himself is 93-years-old. Leadership is about helping people believe in themselves. It is helping someone reach enough certainty to take action.
The Best Questions…
- The Best Leadership Question: “What is the next right thing to do?”
- The Best Teaching Question: “What do you think? What other options do you see?”
- The Best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish. Imagine yourself there. What does it feel like?”
- The Best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
- The Best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
- The Best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.) What other criteria are important in making this decision?” (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)
What question will you ask?
In meetings, John D. Rockerfeller would sit and not say anything. Many times he would appear to be asleep. However when he did speak, it was always a question. It was a question that would break the status quo of the discussion and bring out new viewpoints on a challenge.
As a business school professor I teach by asking questions. Verne Harnish says “we are good at finding answers to questions, leaders find the right questions.”
To read more from Conor, check out his personal blog