I was young, not yet 20 and it was springtime. In speaking with a couple of good friends about the upcoming weekend for which we had no plans, one of them said, “let’s go camping” and we quickly agreed we’d go. I remember the conversation about the trip with my dad when I told him I was planning to go camping on the weekend and asked what he thought. He didn’t say “yes” or “no”, but instead asked, “Are you sure?” “Of course,” I responded, after all what young person isn’t confident about the decision they’ve made on an impulse. We then talked about plans, and he answered some of my questions about what we would need to bring for sleeping, eating, what to cook with, etc. Some answers confirmed what I was thinking, other suggestions were helpful. I wasn’t ready for his last question, “Have you looked at the weather forecast?”, to which I responded, “We’ll be fine.” He didn’t say another word but instead finished helping me get things ready for the trip. When a heavy wet snow started Thursday evening (yes in Missouri we can get snow in spring), we knew it wasn’t the right weekend to go. We cancelled the trip.
My dad lived out the fourth promise of a leader, I will answer you.
A leader’s job is to prepare their team and to guide them. I believe the question-and-answer (Q & A) part of the relationship between leader and team is a critical teaching method a leader uses to do both of those.
But you can’t have those Q & A sessions with your team if they don’t feel comfortable meeting with you and asking questions. You must be open to answering the questions of your team, the good ones and the poorly thought-out ones.
- Don’t say you have an “open door” that anyone can come to you with questions, but never have it open.
- Don’t demean or disparage the person asking the question.
- And never be the leader who responds to the question “what do you want me to do?” with an answer. You might feel good, but you don’t help them and only create dependence on you.
I learned from some great leaders that asking questions is more important than answering them. Sharpen your own skill in asking questions for use during those Q & A sessions. Using questions of them in responding to their questions is a way to learn how much thought the person has put into whatever it is they are asking you about.
Asking questions of them teaches them how you think, how your mind works. It teaches them what’s important to you when addressing a problem. Why is that important? Because you won’t always be around or available for them when they need to make decisions. You are preparing them for those moments.
My team hated my questions because there were many of them. I wanted them to think of things they hadn’t thought about. I was once asked, “How do you know to even ask that?” My answer was simple, “Because I screwed up in the past not knowing it needed to be asked.” Failure is a great teacher.
As leaders we stand ready to answer our team, it’s one way we share wisdom we’ve gained to help them.
We also do it for them and because God promised to be there to answer our questions.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5