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Courageous Questions, Part I: The Manager

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

Inquiry: A Tool for Success

The next two posts are about the importance of inquiry, with part I targeting the perspective of managers.

We ask a great deal of ourselves each day in our careers: to meet goals, complete long task lists, put in the extra hour to meet a deadline or solve an unforeseen problem. But underlying all of these practical questions are the social, human relations that make it all possible. Teamwork, mutuality, the challenge of bringing collective success to life – these, too, require their own kinds of investment, and are unquestionably necessary to making all those individual efforts count at the end of the day. Asking yourself and your colleagues courageous questions will help you develop your fortitude as a collaborative leader in your organization.

As a manager you have extra responsibility, as well as extra room to cultivate the creativity and dedication that are going to put your team’s work on the map. Conflict and problematic group dynamics can be a major set back, and you might have the most power in the room to affect them. Exercise courage in your leadership position by adopting inquiry as a tool to lead the entire department forward.

Ask yourself about: Communication

A manager’s communication habits can set the tone for the intra and interpersonal exchanges running through an entire working group. Take a moment to consider your communication habits. Threats or aggression from the top of the hierarchy can breed discontent and slow progress. Are fear and threats present in any of your messages?

Employees who feel they aren’t listened to might get hung up, feeling uncomfortable or silenced when an issue could be easily resolved if given a little genuine attention. Are you able to identify the obstacles in place to open and honest communication? (Hint: There are bound to be some, even if they are just built in structurally to your work or organization. The point here isn’t to get hung up on blame or shame, but to be able to identify the blocks so you can do your best to work around them and keep them from being problematic.)

Sometimes there’s more to a message from an employee than the content itself reveals – and sometimes those embedded messages are distinctly important to assessing how to deal with the situation. Do you acknowledge the emotions expressed, as well as the content, of messages?

Ask yourself about: Power

As a manager, some decisions are likely to have more consequences – good or bad – and perhaps even a few unforeseen or unintended consequences. This can be a big one for group dynamics: a decision can seem very clear cut and rational in a practical sense, but the fallout on a social level can inhibit the outcome from being as great as it initially seemed it would be. Be aware of your power and authority, and employ it carefully and constructively. Ask yourself, whose interests are you considering when making decisions? How do those decisions impact the larger group or organization?

For a complete list of questions to consider for your own critical inquiry, download my TIPS for Leaders: Courageous Questions about Communication & Conflict. Next week we will talk about courageous questions from the angle of the employee.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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