Whose “truth” are you after?

Continuing my Q&A with Gary Cohen, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions

  • Crossderry: Coming from the other direction, how can senior leadership make it safe to ask and answer questions openly and honestly? Put another way, what distinguishes an organization that cultivates “approval-seeking” from an organization that rewards “truth-seeking”?
  • Gary Cohen: While leaders should seek to cultivate a “truth-seeking” culture over one that’s “approval-seeking,” they must be mindful of whose truth they’re after. Too often leaders express disapproval when their coworkers don’t arrive at the answers they hoped to get. This disapproval prompts coworkers to fish for the truth/answer their leaders prefer. In this way, “truth-seeking” becomes “approval-seeking” in disguise.
  • Gary Cohen (cont.): Leaders ought to ask questions from a position of “not knowing.” As long as their coworkers arrive at answers that comply with the organization’s ethics, budget, and needs, leaders ought to accept these truths. It’s extremely hard for leaders not to reveal their preferences, but they must not. How they respond to answers is as important as asking great questions. If they respond with a judgmental tone or, worse, share their answer, they undo all of their confidence-building work. They communicate the message that their truth is superior to others’. And approval-seeking is bound to follow.

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