Having taught leadership for over two decades I was amused to hear my friend’s grandson declare: “I don’t want to be a leader”! He had just completed a weekend retreat for teens and was told by the event director that he possessed natural leadership qualities.

I asked him a question that everyone in a leadership role might pause to consider…

”What does being a leader mean?”

He didn’t hesitate before saying “I don’t want to have to be the one to tell people what to do and then make sure that they do it!” This young man’s definition is a common perception of what leadership is; and, thankfully it is not an accurate one. So what does being a leader mean?

Throughout the course of my career I have met very few really poor leaders. However, I have met many in leadership roles who make their own job harder every day because of some bad habits.

Rather than learning something new, some magic new technique, the quickest route to producing more and better as a leader is to unlearn these old habits.

The tricky part is that many leaders aren’t even aware of what the bad habits are that diminish their people’s performance. The good news is, there is a way to find out – ask your people.

If you were to ask your team what they would like to see you do more of, less of or differently what would they say?

In order to get the answers that will help make your leadership role easier they need to trust that you will take their feedback without holding it against them. Sometimes it helps to ask for their suggestions anonymously or start with a positive question like: “What is it that I do that you find most helpful?”

Asking your team questions if you are not accustomed to doing so will take some practice.

Practice asking questions about their job and really put effort into listening to their response. Ask them what their challenges are and most importantly ask them for their solutions.

Once you have gotten better at asking questions, and your team has seen that you respond favorably, you will want to take it to the next level. Ask your people what they would like to see you do differently? With each answer ask follow up questions to better understand how that will be helpful to them.

What continually amazes me is how many of the things that come to the surface are things that the leader isn’t even aware of. They never realized the negative impact of many of their actions. It certainly is not something that they are doing maliciously, with an evil intent – they simply were never aware of the cost.

The self-administered litmus test to see if your leadership habits need an adjustment is simple. If you find that you are leaving the dealership at the end of the day energized by what you were able to achieve, fantastic. What you are doing now is working.

If however, the degree of stress and effort you are experiencing daily is high and you are not getting results, you have a choice. Want a different outcome, do something different – and phrase it in the form of a question!

The most inspiring, effective leaders for today and tomorrow will be the ones who ask the best questions and truly listen. These leaders are the ones who can access the best answers from the real experts – the people doing the job.

One of the most significant differentiators between yesterdays’ leadership and what’s essential to succeed in today’s world is the difference between asking and telling. The dinosaur approach of telling people what to do will not work today, if it ever really did.

Do you tend to ‘tell’ more or ‘ask’ more?

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