Asking vendors partnership-promoting questions

As I closed my Q&A with Gary Cohen, I asked about working with oursourced resources.   Service and technology providers are integral parts of many projects, but too often I see them treated like arms-length vendors rather than true partners. 

  • Crossderry: What kind of questions should we ask consultants and vendors to reinforce to them — and to other stakeholders — that we are all in this together?
  • Gary Cohen: To encourage partnership with consultants, I recommend asking the following questions:
    * What risks are there to you if the project fails?
    * What opportunity costs are you giving up in order for us to work together?
    * What would like to hear me say to you a month after the project has been completed? What praise, in other words, would signify the optimal outcome?
    * What might prevent you from hearing that praise?
    * What can I do to help you achieve the optimal outcome?

Help others answer “their” questions

Placing yourself in another’s shoes is one of the most effective ways to confront reality.  I particularly like  Gary Cohen‘s take on how you can use the right questions to not only express empathy, but to also increase accountability (from my Q&A with Gary, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions.

  • Crossderry:  I like the distinction you’ve made between questions that answer “your” questions — i.e., questions where you own the decision — and asking questions that help others answer “their” questions.  Can you talk more about such questions and how they can be used to reinforce accountability?
  • Gary Cohen: One of the most important questions leaders can ask is, “Whose decision is it?” When leaders allow job descriptions to determine decision-makers, not rank, decisions are usually made by the most informed party, and everyone must take ownership of their work. Blame and credit are easy to assess, in these instances. If, on the other hand, leaders make others’ decisions, they take away accountability from coworkers. Blame and credit are harder to assess, and it takes longer for new leaders to emerge because there’s less incentive to take ownership of their work.

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. Continue reading

Using questions “within” your personality

What in the wide world of sports is goin' on here?

The second topic in my Q&A with Gary Cohen, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, focused on personal transformation.  His answer was not quite what I expected, for he rejected my assumption that transformation would needed as  “a matter of course.”

  • Crossderry:  Of course, so many of us will be moving through different firms and roles that change will be a constant in our careers.  Any suggestions for making personal transformation a “core competence” that we leverage as a matter of course?
  • Gary Cohen: Well-designed questions will enable you to learn as much as you can about each firm, role, and set of coworkers, as quickly as possible. Questions signal a desire to learn from and work with others, not compete and contest. If you’re an exceptional question-asker, wholesale personal transformation may not be necessary to successfully navigate each and every career change.

“Just Ask” Leadership

Just Ask Leadership Fail

I finally have a few minutes — semi-snowbound here in Evansville — to catch up on old posting themes.  Earlier this year I had a chance to do a Q&A with Gary Cohen, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions.  Gary is a serial and successful entrepreneur — ACI Telecentrics was his major liquidity event I believe — and he’s currently partner and cofounder of CO2Partners, LLC, operating as an executive coach and consultant.  

The book is based on a fundamental insight: As leaders advance, they tend to ask fewer questions and provide more answers. Which is exactly backwards according to Cohen: “Leadership is about allowing others the chance to flourish and you do that by asking questions.”

Luckily, I had the chance to ask Gary a few questions myself.  I’ve been struck by the fact that many Crossderry readers are relatively new managers in technology-driven industries. They’re coming from roles where they were rewarded for knowing answers, not asking questions.   So I asked Gary: “What do new leaders need to unlearn before they try to use question-based leadership?”

Toddlers and young children are bursting with questions: Where does the water from the faucet come from? Where does it go? Why? Questions are the entry point of most significant learning–because they generally indicate an investment in the answer. But parents and teachers can’t or don’t entertain every question from every child and every student. Continue reading

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