Break the Telling Habit and Make an Impact
As leaders, we often feel that we have to be the expert with all the knowledge. We feel that we have to be the person in the room who solves the problems or handles the challenges. This brings with it a level of pressure that can sometimes be counterproductive — for you and for your team.
What if you didn’t have to be the person with all the answers? What if you were the kind of leader who developed your people by asking better questions, so that they could solve the problems themselves?
Asking better questions is one of the most impactful things we can do as leaders. When these questions are aligned with the purpose of developing learning, you begin to transform into a leader who can navigate the continuums between asking and telling, advocacy and inquiry, and expert and coach.
This all depends on your INTENTION. Intention = Heart + Direction. Leading with intention is knowing your purpose (heart) and then aligning your actions in that direction. This is where you ask yourself some important questions:
- How do you want to impact the person you’re asking the questions to?
- How important is it to get to the solution that you have in your mind at that moment?
- How open are you to other answers?
- How important is it for your answer to be the “right” answer?
Reflect on your role in that moment. Is it more important to get to your right answer immediately, or is it more important to use it as an opportunity for learning?
Leaders Don’t Always Have to Have the Answers
One of the fundamental concepts of a Lean learning culture is that “no problem is a problem,” or, as Toyota leader and subject of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Isao Yoshino says, ask for “bad news first” ahead of what is going well. However, one of the challenges that many leaders face is the burden that they need to take on all the responsibility for solving problems that arise in their organization. That isn’t the leader’s role.
What Does Intentional Leadership Look Like?
When you lead with intention, you begin to successfully navigate the following leadership and coaching continuums:
- When to ask and when to tell
- How to provide both challenges and support as people are learning
- How to achieve business results while developing people at the same time
Intentional leadership guides you to better fulfill your purpose as a leader and coach, while helping others to be their best selves. And, importantly, you solve more problems at the same time!
The Leading to Learn Framework
As I describe in my book, a leader’s purpose is threefold:
- Set the Direction — Provide a clear challenge or target.
- Provide Support — Help others develop competence and confidence in solving problems and achieving goals.
- Develop Yourself — See yourself as a business condition that also requires improvement.
I call this the Leading to Learn Framework. It is simple in concept but more challenging in practice. Your role as a leader is to create an environment where people can bring problems and issues forward, secure in the knowledge that they have the capability to clarify what the actual problem is, and that they have the confidence to move forward. This way, they know that they have the support to solve the problems within their span of control — or, if there are bigger challenges, that they have their leader’s support to remove barriers or help them navigate their way forward.
When you realize leadership is about both setting direction and providing support, you are unburdened from having to be the expert with all the answers. Leading to learn is about finding the learning zone between providing a challenge and support to allow someone else the opportunity to learn and grow.
When you break your telling habit and strengthen your habit to lead with inquiry, caring, and curiosity, not only do you solve more problems, your team — and organization — is able to flourish.
About the CI Conference
The 2022 Continuous Improvement Conference (May 1–4 in Scottsdale, Arizona) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence by using the concepts of Lean manufacturing and other management and quality systems. Whether you’re starting a structured improvement program or are looking for ways to sustain and improve your existing efforts, the conference has content specifically designed for your knowledge level. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org.
Continuous Improvement Newsletter is published by PRINTING United Alliance in support of its annual Continuous Improvement Conference. Past issues are available at ci.printing.org/ci-newsletters.
Katie Anderson is an internationally recognized leadership and learning coach, consultant, and professional speaker. She will be a keynote speaker at the 2022 Continuous Improvement Conference. Her book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning is an international #1 Amazon bestseller. Download her helpful guide for more actionable advice: 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit.