Leaders – The 4 Questions We Are Afraid To Ask

Are there any questions you do not ask because you don’t want to hear the answer? 

As a husband, one question that always makes me nervous is –  In a year from now, what do you hope has changed?  This question digs deeper than just uncovering any recent inconsiderate remarks I have made or recalling a stressful entry into the house from a long day of work.  The answer always reveals something significant and important.  I still fear this question.  t is hard to ask.

Here are the top 4 questions that leaders are afraid to ask:

  1. How am I doing?
  2. From your perspective, was I right or wrong?
  3. What should we be celebrating? 
  4. Imagine we are sitting here a year from now – What one thing do you hope has changed? (it is just not significant in relationships)

It is hard to ask questions that, when answered truthfully, will put us in a position to have to make a change.  You might be wondering about #3.  In a world where leaders strive to move things forward and often see problems piling up faster than problems going away, celebrations often become barriers to doing work.  Is fear the reason?  Maybe not.  But if the outcome is the question does not get asked, does the reason matter?  I thought it worth including.

It is hard to ask questions that will likely result in someone criticizing something we did or adding more work to an already full day.

It is easier to get lost in our work, to do lists, or superficial conversations.

To combat this, it is important for leaders and organizations to develop HABITS that provide an opportunity to listen.  Things like:

  • Yearly employee engagement surveys
  • One on one time every two  weeks.
  • Frequent Breakfast with the CEO events.
  • Yearly/Quarterly performance discussions.

Of course, you could ask the single question or do the employee engagement survey, then do nothing with the responses.  Is this more harmful than not asking the question?  I have an opinion, but what do you think? 

Do you have any other difficult questions to add to the list?

Breathing Rate vs Talent Management: What is healthy?

I learned a new fact yesterday – On average, people in the US take 17 breaths a minute.  In Africa, that number is 6 breaths a minute.

Conclusion?  Our steady state is not a relaxed state.  Normal isn’t healthy.

How does this connect to how effectively companies leverage their greatest resource – people?  A trend I see is to begin to re-hire the talent management roles that were cut during the recent downturn.  A good thing – but reactive.  Use the statistics above to think about your organization right now:

Here is what talent management looks like at 17 breaths a minute:  

  • An employee engagement initiative is under way.
  • HR people hounding overworked leaders to get performance evaluations done.
  • Top performers getting generous conteroffers after announcing their intent to leave.
  • Poor performers stay in key roles > 4 months.
  • The most critical project happening is the implementation of a learning management system.

Here is what talent management looks like at 6 breaths a minute:

  • Performance Conversations happen with leader and follower input, no surprises, and follower leaves with a development plan they are ready and equipped to own.  (here is al ink to what I mean by follower)
  • CEO hears key people update(2x a year) from each leader and sees proof that they are being challenged, developed, supported, and cared for.
  • Regular one on ones are happening down to at least the manager level, preferably the professional contributor level.
  • No painful departures.

People initiatives happen because we forget about the healthy habits.  Talent management is about developing a homeostatic state.  It is about Building Rhythm.

How is your organization breathing?