I was talking to a former employee the other day. We were talking about the changing work place and the unique dynamics the down economy has created.
During the conversation he said he was getting frustrated with his new manager. He said he liked him but didn’t feel he was bringing much value. He said he asked a lot of questions, but not Jim Keenan questions. Flattered, I had to ask, what are Jim Keenan questions.
He said Jim Keenan questions challenge you to dig deep and then defend your thoughts. The questions his new manager would ask were questions he himself would ask, they weren’t questions he hadn’t thought of. They were how do we fix this problem questions, NOT what is the problem, why is it a problem, how did it become a problem, is it really a problem, is it THE problem, does it really need to be fixed and then, if so, what needs to be fixed first and why?
He said the questions didn’t help get to the heart of the matter. They just accepted what was on the table. They didn’t challenge his thinking.
What my former employee was saying, was he enjoyed being challenged. He wanted a manager to help him see more than he was seeing at the moment. He said he liked it when we worked together. We never just accepted things for what they were. We didn’t allow what was on the surface to dictate our thinking and because of this he was far more effective.
I’ve always held that being a coach is a leaders job. To be a coach means pushing your players. It’s challenging their capabilities and perspectives. It’s getting more out of them than they can get out of themselves. The best way to do this is to ask questions that challenge their thinking. It’s making them uncomfortable.
The best leaders I’ve ever had were the ones who challenged my thinking. They made me own my thoughts. It was never good enough to say what I thought. I had to defend it.
Forcing people to defend their thoughts doesn’t allow them to just grab what sounds right or quickly fits for the moment. Defending our thoughts makes us think long and hard about why we are taking a position. It compels us to do more research, gather more data, test our assumptions, and be more clear.
Challenging people to defend their thoughts doesn’t make you popular, but it definitely separates the wheat from the chaffe.
This former employee is proof of that, he would make some of the best bread you’ve ever tasted.
If you’re going to bother thinking, think like you have to defend it.