What is the main challenge new, inexperienced leaders have? As new Managers, most everyone has a hard time adjusting to the new job because as a Manager, you don’t make the cake anymore; you supervise the making of the cake.
Last week I wrote about how to lead when you’re an inexperienced leader. As a new Manager, you no longer do the work; your work is about people. It’s no longer about you having all the answers, but of enabling the right answers through others.
Let me give you an example, when I was running Netek (my affective computing startup) I was very aware that people were looking for me for answers. Truth is, I didn’t have them; and I told them so. How could I have all the answers when we were creating a new industry? None of us had them, thus we had to find them.
I laid out our challenges and objectives, made sure everyone knew the role they played in helping us overcome those challenges and reaching our objectives. Basically, I game the team a compass, not a map; we had to figure out the map together.
Still, they came to me for answers.
One of the main challenges we had was figuring out which webcams (internal / external) and mobile phone cameras were the best at capturing the most light in any condition. Having more light meant our emotion recognition software would be able to better notice people’s microexpresions. So, one day my CTO and Chief Scientist came to me with some ideas on how to we could have more control of the camera capability. They pitched two things: code that would enhance the image (we had talked about this before), and work with hardware manufacturers to develop cameras that would meet our requirements.
Weeks before before this meeting, during a late night thinking sessions, I had already done research on who developed the internal lenses for these cameras and listed them on a spreadsheet; but I hadn’t told my team. So when they came to me about reaching out to lens manufacturers I was prepared, but I didn’t tell them; I acted like it was all news to me. Instead I asked them questions, and let them figure out the answers.
I could’ve easily told them I had done some serious thinking about it and had already started researching it, but if you give employees the answer, they might just run with it because you said so; this is not the best way to lead.
To enable others, the most powerful leadership move is asking the right questions
Contrary to popular belief, barking orders, telling people what to do is not the most powerful leadership move; it is asking the right questions. The problem with barking orders and telling people what to do is you’re not fostering the ability to problem solve, take initiative, or lead themselves.
Leadership starts with trust. You want earn trust, give trust. You want to earn influence, give influence. You want earn respect, give respect. It’s that simple. This is the path towards bringing out the best in others. No doubt there is a balancing act on when to stand back and when to jump in. But to develop other leaders, you enable their growth by asking questions.