Leader Mind


Part of leadership is teaching and mentoring your team to develop a leader mind. This skill as a leader is a type of coaching, which is the ability to really be curious and ask questions that help your report to think through things and find answers. These questions are not leading questions where you know the answer or questions that are rhetorical in nature, that cause someone to feel stupid or guessing what is in your mind. They are REAL questions to seek to hear, understand, and uncover their perspective, what is in their mind, and what they saw with their lens/eyes.

Leaders can often feel the frustration of not wanting to just “tell” their people want to do, but sometimes it feels like people are asking and legitimately don’t know what to do. I say that is the “seductive” moment where it is easier, simple, and feels quicker to just answer their question, especially if you are busy and it is obvious to you. Doing this, however, teaches them to stop thinking for themselves and rely on you. It is a subconscious message that they are not able to figure it out and you are happy to help. Which really means thinking for them. This would be fishing for someone rather than teaching them to fish. As good leaders, we ALL know this is not the best way to lead, but the struggle is real in the world of work and trying to get things done.

As leaders, the skill of asking good coaching questions is a muscle we must keep working on developing. We must PRACTICE asking questions and waiting for the answer. You can have your thoughts in mind but try to let go of those preconceived assumptions, biases, and thoughts. Try and back up to get in their shoes and into their perspective. Test and challenge yourself to ask 3-5 questions BEFORE sharing your perspective or answer (Note: Don’t rush their answer waiting to talk so you don’t forget what you were going to say. Forget what you were going to say and get present with them.)

Ask questions that help to reflect, assess, and uncover. Stay away from simplistic ping-pong, deflection-type questions like, “Well, what do you think you should do?” That question is frustrating to anyone and really is not engaging. Your job is to support them to think it through. Teach them to walk around the problem. Help them to learn what variables they are looking for and how to break them down, size them up, prioritize, and develop a plan. This can all be done through the art of asking questions.

Here is an approach and a few questions to get you started. Think through some of the challenges your team brings to you and write down 10 questions you can ask that help peel back the layers, explore, and develop a pathway. In the book Positive Intelligence, the author teaches about the SAGE mind which follows these 5 steps:

Those with a leader mind:

  1. EMPATHIZE. Understand the struggle or challenge. You do not have to agree, condone, empower, or accept it but have compassion for the challenge and person.
  2. EXPLORE. Peel back the layers of the situation to understand below the surface so you are solving the real issue and not the surface. Problems that are simple, will have already been taken care of. If they are coming with a problem that seems simple to you but they are stuck, there is usually more to it. Often by the time you have worked through these questions, your team member has gotten an insight, idea, and clarity – which doesn’t happen when you just tell them what to do.
    1. What is happening?
    2. What did you notice?  What did you feel?
    3. What was your experience? What did it bring up for you?
    4. What feels hard about this? What is difficult?
    5. What has been tried? What is missing?
    6. What might be under the surface or unspoken?
    7. What did you learn? What are you realizing or thinking about?
    8. What are you resisting or attached too?
    9. What ideas do you have to address it or move things forward?
    10. What is getting in the way?
    11. What are you looking for from me that would be helpful?
  3. INNOVATE. What are ways to solve this challenge? Try to think of 3, 5, or even 8 solutions. Allow crazy ideas and even the obvious ones that seem like they wouldn’t work. Often the best and most innovative ideas come from a hybrid of several ideas.
  4. NAVIGATE. What would this look like? What would it take? Who would need to be involved? What would this solve? How would you know? Lean into the idea and design the steps. Sometimes this is part of the overwhelming nature of executing the solution and why we TALK but don’t see ACTION.
  5. ACTIVATE. Affirm the plan. Who will do what, by when, and how do WE (you and your team member) know? What are the first steps and when will that be done? Do they need help or support from you? What will help them be successful or get into action?

By being a leader that develops leaders. Supporting them to work through the situation through the art of questions helps them solve the issue and equips them to do this more on their own and to teach those that they lead. It is always quick and easier to just tell. It is REALLY HARD to really step back and ask the questions and patiently allow space for open exploration. It is powerful and effective however and is a key to developing your future leaders! Give it a try and let us know how it goes!