When I was CEO of two high growth companies, I was asked questions constantly. It felt like the main responsibility of my role – being the question master. I got asked questions from practically everyone, every day, all day. One of my biggest mistake in my FIRST company was trying to answer them ALL. As leaders, we think we need to answer everyone’s questions. But why? Do we correlate this directly to the success of our leadership? Our company?
Often CEO’s and other leaders are in their role because they were/are experts in that field. This was true in my case as CEO for my companies. As a result, I thought that if I did not answer every question fired at me I would not be viewed as the expert I was. I thought my team would lose confidence in me. I feared that if I declined to answer these questions, my team would head in the wrong direction and I would be to blame. Was I ever wrong!
Interestingly enough, the less time you spend answering questions, and the more time you spend guiding and creating the path to where the company is headed, the better! If we leaders can articulate and share where we are headed, the team (who are experts in their roles) can often make great decisions everyday! Our teams are composed of smart people. Smart EXPERTS in their roles. When we supply them with the framework of where we are headed, with achievable goals and long-term vision, they can make these daily decisions more independently. This is how we build confidence in the entire company.
When I was CEO of my first company, my business coach observed that I was answering way too many questions. He warned me that as the company scaled, this time spent answering questions would be a huge barrier to growth. To ensure this didn’t happen, I took my coaches advice and worked with the leadership team to ensure we were clear on our BHAG, 3HAG, 1HAG and 90 day priorities. I also implemented one of my coaches other strategies: every time myself and my leadership team received a question, we responded with the question “What do YOU recommend?”
We started doing this immediately, and WOW – What a difference! Not only did team members share what they recommended, but they were explaining other options and reasoning to why they were recommending particular solutions. The results were amazing. This method of problem solving saved time, empowered the team, and opened the minds of the leaders of our company to new [and sometimes better] answers!
This approach does however take discipline. As leaders, we are wired to answer questions. I would keep a tally at the top of my notebook each day and week. One side was number of questions I answered and the other side was how many times I said “what do you recommend?”. Having this in front of me at every meeting kept me in check. Keeping score was a way to understand, for myself and the rest of my leaders, if we were changing our habits. After some time, the teams behaviour also changed. They knew not to ask questions, but instead come prepared with a recommendation and the options considered.
Above I mentioned that this happened in my first company, and thankfully that is where it ended. By the time I got to co-founding and leading my second company, I had trained myself and my leaders to approach team questions in this way. This is one of the reason Subserveo was grown and sold in less that 3.5 years. We had a clear BHAG, 3HAG, 1HAG and 90 day plans from day 1 and we spent our time as leaders ensuring there was clarity with the team so they new what to recommend to move us forward! So simple but yet so powerful.
I hope you can learn from my experience and take on the “WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND” challenge. As a leader, share with clarity where you are going and ask your team for recommendations on how to get there! You might be amazed at what happens as a result.
-Shannon Byrne Susko