You don’t give me answers, you ask me questions

He’s a former colleagues of mine I worked with during 10 years. Let’s call him Jack. He’s about 10 years younger, cocky, went from graduation directly to consulting and as he stated himself one day, “can’t stand being unable to answer a client’s question right away”.

The opposite of me in many aspects and that’s perhaps why we worked well together for so long. The biggest differences between us are that I have no problem to admit I don’t know and I manage silence rather well.

What long flattered and puzzled me about Jack was his repeated “compliment”: You don’t give me answers, you ask me questions.

Well, this is what managers are supposed to do: help their staff to find answers and solutions. Even a manager is not supposed to have answers to all questions, but he should at last know how to tackle problems.

The questions I asked Jack were for both of us. They were a way to structure my own thinking about the issue as I didn’t have the answer myself. The questions were the logical loud spoken path to put pieces together, check the assumptions, simplify the problem and try to craft a possible solution or at least a satisfactory answer.

Asking questions was an invitation for Jack or others to join the exercise and connect our brainpower together. I could make believe I knew the answers but played it old wise man leading his mentee to find the correct answer by himself as a part of his initiation. But no, asking question is still my quiet and indirect way to say “I don’t know but I am willing to help you find the answer”.

Knowing Jack, it was a wonder he didn’t disregard me for being so openly ignorant, but on the contrary he kept seeking my questions.

Over the years, bits of explanations surfaced. One of them was I was a cool manager not giving direct orders (command and control) but helping his teammates to learn. Something so basic in my opinion it does not deserve any praise.

What Jack never said in such way but appeared to me recently (and still is an assumption) is that asking questions and logically analyzing the problem together, I simply showed him respect.

I did not care about my rank nor image, I gave a hand when asked for, worked with lower ranking associates, admitting I didn’t know. Furthermore, for highly educated and intelligent people it was a sign of respect not to throw them any answer but encourage them to analyze, try and solve by themselves.

Reflecting on my own experience, I’ve seen so many managers who couldn’t stand not to know and gave just any answer and left you on your own with it.

How many would I compliment for their managing skills?

No so common after all.

Bandeau_CH38

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

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