As a business leader, the right queries generate the right mindset – which gets more and better work out of your staff. Here’s how the right words make all the difference.
As a small-business owner or leader, you might have drifted into your leadership role simply because you are good at the stuff that you do. This is true at most small businesses. You are probably rich in technical skill sets, such as how to build a house, update software or install a new machine. Or, you might have a service background and be particularly good with client orders, inventory or advice.
But, as your business grows, you begin to find yourself in a leadership role generally, because you are good at fixing stuff. Stuff that your business needs to grow, develop and improve.
“The key to success starts with you, and your ability to consciously choose a success mindset.”
As your business grows, you begin to add to your team. A new person to fix the front-of-house issues, a new team member to sort the finances, or even a new person to deliver hands-on service to your customers.
And, in small business, this is where the real fun starts. You now have a team, a team of people who can not only sort out some of the work, but also bring problems to you, to fix, every day. Suddenly, rather than buying yourself extra time or freedom, you are more swamped than ever.
How to get your team to do more
If you, as a leader, want to have more time for thinking and more time for strategy, or even just more time for you, the best place to start is with how you approach your team.
The key to success starts with you, and your ability to consciously choose a success mindset. A success mindset that carefully frames the problem into solution-focused opportunity, rather than creating a witch hunt for the root cause of a problem. Most importantly, the Success Mindset Model is a great place to start because it can be broken into five simple questions that can produce immediate results.
The Success Mindset – outcome versus blame
As a leader, you want to help people fix problems, but you also want to help them learn. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, you can find yourself stuck in the blame game, trying to decipher who is right and who is wrong.
The quickest way to escalate a situation is to ask questions such as, “What’s wrong? Who’s to blame for this? Who’s going to fix it?” These questions dig around in fault and don’t help us move forward.
A better way to solve problems is to keep ourselves focused on what outcome we want. To do this, some better questions include, “Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What is the gap? What resources do you need? What actions are you going to take to move forward?”
So, next time that a problem blows up, instead of asking, “What happened?”, try substituting that with, “What action do you want to take?” and see if you can feel the difference from your team. It will shift the focus from you (and what you need to do to fix it) to them (and how they can sort it).
The Success Mindset – how versus why
As a leader, you will spend the best part of your day communicating. Most of that communication will probably involve trying to drive change or improvement. Nothing will slow down your momentum on this more than carrying out an autopsy on why something happened.
You might be guilty of asking your team a question such as, “Why didn’t this job get done?” A ‘why-style’ question will put your team on the defensive and typically ends in justification of their actions.
Whereas, when you ask a ‘how’ question, such as, “How are we going to fix it?” or “How can we solve this?”, you will generally get a better response, where the recipient is part of the solution.
Try the switch from, “Why did this happen?” to “How do you want to fix this?” and wait for the magic to happen.
The Success Mindset – possibilities versus necessities
When you are stuck, you might find that you get focused on what you ‘have to do’ or the necessity of what is going on, rather than what is possible.
You might find that, in a crisis, you and your team ask questions such as, “What do we have to do?”, “What do they want?”, or “When is the deadline?”
A better way of moving yourself, and your team, out of the ‘have to’ rut is to give yourself a moment to consider the possibilities.
Questions that allow you the time to consider alternatives, rather than the crisis, are helpful here: What is possible? How can we do this in a different way? What are our other options?
So, next crisis, give yourself and your team the space to move from, “What do they want?” to “How can we make this happen?” Then, take a deep breath, consider the possibilities and feel the weight lift from your shoulders.
The Success Mindset – feedback versus failure
When you focus on failure, and what went wrong, you are not able to see the lesson or improve your understanding of a situation. Questions that will keep you trapped include, “Why did that fail? What caused this problem? Whose fault is this?”
When you ask questions like these, you can create a situation that is so big that you begin to feel that it is one of no return.
Asking your team to focus on what they learnt, rather than making a list of mistakes, cultivates a learning culture. Try asking questions such as, “What has happened, so far? What have you learnt? How could we avoid this in the future? How will you know when you have succeeded?”
Rather than asking, “What went wrong?”, next time ask, “What could you do differently?”
And, just watch what happens to your team when they focus on growth, rather than the blame and shame of the situation.
The Success Mindset – curiosity versus assumptions
As a leader, you might jump to a conclusion, based on your assumption about what is happening. You might fall into this trap when you make statements like: You obviously know…, You think that…, It’s obvious that…
If you are more curious as a leader, you might ask your team, “What are we assuming here? What are we assuming about them, their thoughts or their reactions? What has to be true for this to be a real issue?”
When you carefully check your assumptions, you are generally more curious, which can lead to more creative solutions. Lead your team from an assumptive statement like, “They always behave like that”, to a more curious approach by asking, “What are we missing here?”
This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine