Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why don't we ask her?

I hope you have all enjoyed the recent posts as much as I have. They have been incredibly thought provoking for me. For sure, I am getting dumber. I most certainly learn by doing but don't do things as a result of fear and therefore inhibit my learning which results in a dumber me. I recently provided feedback to a highly successful executive who asks amazing, insightful questions. Most people who have worked for him would credit him for their significant growth in strategic thinking. The feedback he was receiving from his peers and boss was that he needed to be more decisive and execute things more quickly. As we dissected the feedback, a lot of the "you slow things down" was a result of his incredibly thought provoking questions. My "non-professional" translation of the feedback was " would you mind dumbing yourself down a bit so the rest of us feel better about ourselves". As I thought more about this I realized that this leader makes far fewer assumptions about what people are thinking, impacts they have considered, and what their expectations are for their work. He spends more time up front asking lots of questions. I began to keep track of the % of time in business planning meetings that leaders spend trying to figure out what other people (key stakeholders) will want to see and hear to influence them towards a certain outcome. I have been having a blast as the sole voice in the room simply saying "why don't we ask them?". As you can imagine, I am causing quite the commotion in these meetings. So, why don't we ask them?

REASON 1. It is easier to sit around and talk about what they might want verses producing the data and information they do want. AFRAID OF THE ANSWER YOU MIGHT GET

REASON 2. They should want what we want to show them so even if they don't realize it, what we have is better than what they might want so let's talk ourselves into believing that they want what we think they should want. I AM SMARTER THAN YOU

REASON 3. If we ask he/she will think we don't know what we are doing because we should be able to read people's minds, after all, we are corporate executives. AFRAID OF JUDGEMENT

REASON 4. I can demonstrate that I am in the inner circle if I most accurately predict what he/she wants and you don't. I AM IMPORTANT

This is an interesting combination of confidence and fear.

Given all this, I am curious about the situation for the above referenced executive. If we took the time an idea was generated until the time it was executed doing it his way and the time a "more decisive, action oriented" executive took from idea generation to execution of a similar quality idea, what would be the difference? Would the data support "slower execution" or does it simply feel slower to those who move to action more quickly based on assumptions and then continuously improve if the assumptions were wrong? How are individual fears shaping the experience these executives have with each other. Are the "action oriented" executives less fearful or more fearful in this exchange?

How much time do you spend making assumptions about what other people are thinking or feeling? What has prevented you from simply asking?

Love to all,


1 comment:

  1. Kathy,
    Thought-provoking stuff. I think the key lies in the motivation and skill. Clearly, you can move much faster if you make assumptions than if you don't.

    However, in order to move faster and well, then you have to be good at making assumptions. Otherwise, you just move faster. I can do anything arbitrarily fast as long as it doesn't have to work.

    On the flip side, not making assumptions can lead to much better output, but at the cost of speed.

    Ideally I would want someone who can make good decisions quickly using assumption when required, good decisions slowly asking questions when required, and the insight to know which method is required.

    I guess I would start with results. If someone makes great decisions that lead to corporate success, I don't particularly care how they make them. However, if she were someone who often makes assumptions, I'd probably coach her on how to ask insightful questions and if she tended towards lots of questions, I'd coach her on how to make better assumptions.

    If on the other hand, her results are neither fast achieved nor good, well, then it's probably time to dig deeply into motivations and basic skill development.

    Thanks for sparking my thinking!


Read, smile, think and post a message to let us know how this article inspired you...