Leading and not knowing

drucker1“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.” — Peter Drucker

It seems like much of the literature about leadership communication is focused on getting our messages across to others. And that’s important. But as Drucker pointed out, that’s only half of the equation. A highly regarded leadership consultant and scholar, he found that it’s equally important to create an environment where others can get their messages across to us.

One key way to do that is to ask good questions and listen carefully to the answers.  Gary Cohen, author of Just Ask Leadership, says that for a question to be meaningful it must come from a place of not knowing. This means:

  • Our questions must come from genuine curiosity – people will sense if they’re expected to come up with the “right” answer.
  • We have to be open to new perspectives and ideas. We can’t know it all, and even if we did it wouldn’t be helpful in engaging others.
  • We have to acknowledge that our stories and beliefs may not show the whole picture. And as Cohen points out, even if it was true in the past, things can change. We might tell ourselves stories about how a particular action wouldn’t work in our organization, or how a particular person should not be trusted. They can get in the way of productive listening.

I sometimes struggle with not knowing in a leadership setting. It can be difficult to let go of my ideas and listen with an open mind to perspectives that are very different from mine. In those situations, I’ve found that framing good questions can help me focus on the other person.

Dee Anne Bonebright





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