Volume 1 / Issue 12 / August 29, 2016
“When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'” Lao Tzu
A Lifeline to Everyone Who Leads Others: The Transformative Power of No Answer!
Questions are such a powerful and widely-deployed tool in Toyota. They don’t give it a second thought. It’s just part of the world’s best production system’s culture. Thinking back, your best teachers may have mentioned Socrates and probably knew how to use his approach by asking questions to get your attention and excitement. Such questions, well asked, can turn on lights of understanding for us all but when we are busy solving problems or working with tools we can lose sight of how questions illuminate the bigger picture.
The act of “growing People” has become a critical role for leaders at every level. Amazingly, ‘managing by questions’ enhances employee growth while at the same time, providing more time for leaders to actually lead. It’s a win-win!
The Basics... One More Time
Remember as you plod along the road toward True North to accelerate your journey to Lean, it’s the little things that can set you up for big successes. Here are some key elements:
1. The purpose of “Managing by Questions” is to grow the value of people every day. If you take pride in giving answers precisely and clearly you are condemning yourself to be the ‘go to person’ tomorrow. Your ego may feel good but it consumes your time and does not grow the self-confidence of your people or their feeling of accountability. In fact, you have just given your associate a chance to say to a co-worker, ‘Well, this is what my boss wanted me to do.’
2. What is the key issue? If you quickly answer your associate’s question you may have just robbed the person in front of you of an opportunity to learn and take accountability for whatever the answer might be. How many times have people asked you questions you feel they should know? In 50% of the cases they probably do know the answer but ask you anyway simply because you are handy and this means they don’t have to think too much.
There is a dark side to this. By giving out answers too quickly you may sense a monkey jumping onto your back. The associate has learned nothing new and if anything goes wrong the associate will quickly point out that this is simply what he was told to do.
So while Answering Questions may make a leader feel good at the moment (it is an ego thing again) it is really a trap that prevents those who asked the questions from growing. In the future, rather than finding answers, the associate will track you down again.
How to do it Right
The next time someone asks a work-related question, try responding with: “That’s a good question. What are your thoughts?” or “What would you suggest?” Stay quiet; don’t jump in. Instead use one of a leader’s most potent teaching tools (a friendly silence) and hold it until they answer you. (Note: If they sense you are playing ‘got-cha’ – you just don’t quite have the knack yet.)
Keep an ear open for two valuable clues found within an associate’s question that you can actually use to help coach them. Consider:
• Does this person already know the answer?
Do they lack confidence or just want to avoid accountability?
• How much do they really know? How much further training or
experience do they need before they are fully competent?
• Insight into how much authority can be safely assigned
to the person at this time.
Sure this takes more time but think of it as an investment in a brighter future for everyone. You are systematically building a person’s self-confidence to take action. In short, you are helping to empower them and doing so gradually is best.
Remember that empowerment has more to do with ‘freedom to decide’ than with power. Most managers dream of the day that empowered staff will ‘just do it’ when something needs doing.
A Solid Example
John Shook is best known as the author of Learning to See and Managing to Learn. What many do not know is that he was the first North American to be given line management responsibilities for Toyota in Toyota City Japan. His responsibility was to bring the Toyota culture to NUMMI in Freemont CA. The new GM-Toyota joint venture turned around the ‘worst of the worst’ GM plants. This initiative was one of the greatest management transformations ever achieved as 4,500 NUMMI employees rocketed from last to first in a year.
As he left Japan, he commented to his Sensei that over the 3 years he could not remember ever being told what to do. To which his sensei responded bluntly, “And it took you this long to figure that out, John-san?”
The point is, there is a powerful dynamic at play when you ask the right questions of another person and enable them to discover the right answer. It is exactly that self-discovery that excites people and boosts their personal sense of achievement. Learning is taking place. The impact is huge.
The Power of ‘Managing by Questions’
• Asking the right questions forces the learner to engage mentally.
• Questions require a person to investigate.
When they discover the answer they believe: “Hey, I FOUND THIS!”
This discovery gives rise to a sense of ownership and achievement.
There’s no way ownership can be ‘installed’ in a human being except through
involvement and engagement.
• The Leader’s role is far from trivial and includes four competencies.
1. They must possess interest in those they direct, show humility and little ego.
2. They must spend enough time to get to know their staff.
(Go See>Ask Why>Show Respect)
3. They must ask the right questions to lead a person on their journey of self-discovery.
4. Excellent knowledge of the job and the ability to ask the right questions to determine why
the action is needed.
With everyone leading and coaching in this way motivation grows and things begin to happen reflexively.
By practicing this approach repeatedly you are actually making it your communication and individual coaching KATA.
The time that this approach will save you is yours alone to use. Invest it wisely.