During a leadership meeting the other week, the group was chatting about asking questions and lines of inquiry and something called the ladder of inference. That’s an interesting topic, but I’m going to pass on it for now. Feel free to dive down that rabbit hole if it sounds interesting…
Specifically in our conversation about asking questions, one of the women, Cheri, made an intriguing statement:
‘Silence will do the heavy-lifting.’ She quickly added, ‘If you let it.’ Hmm. She’s right on both counts.
She admitted to us how it was tough for her to do that. Since being a little girl, she shared, the value she put on herself was tied up in her being the expert. Having all the answers. I know that feeling well. I wrote about it a while ago.
Back to this silence thing, though.
Yeah, not jumping in with the answer, showing everyone I know my stuff… that’s tough for me, too. For the same reason as Cheri. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us who can relate.
The thing is, by observing the folks I looked up to as leaders, I discovered they created value by asking good questions. That made me realize as I moved through my career, I had to let go of being the expert and start getting comfy with asking better questions. Hard questions. And when someone doesn’t have an answer right away, to hold back from answering. Particularly if I had one in mind. As Cheri put it, to let the silence do the heavy lifting.
If you haven’t tried it lately, I triple dog dare you. Yep, that’s right, I went right for the throat. The results can be pretty amazing.
This one is going to be a little different.
I was sitting on our porch Tuesday when K and S came up with the mail. My quarterly Harvard Business Review mag had come. With a little coffee left in my cup and a few minutes to spare, I quickly thumbed through it. On the last page, I was surprised to see a Q&A with Alex Honnold. A climber is sort of different for HBR, but that’s not why this one is different.
Part of our leadership programs always have something to do with thinking about careers. How we spend a better part of our lives is a big deal, after all. The second-to-last question the interviewer asked: Since the El Cap ascent, how have you been thinking about your career?
Alex’s reply is why this is different. He said:
Now that I’ve achieved that life dream, nothing is calling to me as much as it did. That’s what I’m struggling with.
For a change, that’s not me. I can’t say I’ve reached a defining pinnacle from where I feel like everything else is downhill. Still, the thought stood out to me. Why? Because I tend to think about everything up to the point of hitting that pinnacle. Never beyond. Alex and maybe any of you who have reached what you’d consider a defining pinnacle is essentially asking…
That’s a tough one. If any of you have any tips for how you’ve answered it, let me know.
The other day K shared with me an article from Bored Panda. After reading it, I told her, ‘Thanks for the Friday Randomness!’ To which she asked me with a smile, ‘How many have I contributed to?’ At least 50% I offered. Of those, 25% have been from good ol’ Bored Panda. Maybe that’s a stretch. Whatever.
This one is for the managers. Or those of you who are thinking of becoming a manager. Or who have been a manager. Basically, it’s for a bunch of you.
All I saw when I first opened it was the guy’s Tweet that ended, ‘I said no.’ I immediately jumped to a conclusion like it sounds nearly everyone else did, too. I expected another story about an awful boss. Those stories are sort of common. It’s the bosses who aren’t awful, who are in fact inspiring, who aren’t as common.
It turns out this guy, Aaron Genest, is one of them. The awesome ones.
I can’t capture it all in these short nuggets so I’ll leave you a link to check out his story. It’s worth the read. I think it’ll make you smile.
Without spoiling it, the last comment sums it up:
That’s a real leader.
I’ve mused before about the conjunction ‘but.’ A couple days ago I thought about ‘and.’ This is how it went down.
I was reading an email over my wife’s shoulder (she loves that!). For some dorky reason, it made me think of that innocent little conjunction. Since you signed up for these random emails, you get to see how my brain works. I’ll paraphrase the email:
So-and-so has done awesome stuff and through her being awesome, we have become more awesome.
It was a fine email. Nothing terrible, which maybe makes it a better example than one with a string of endless conjunctions. The devil’s in the details. This is how my brain wanted to read it:
So-and-so has done awesome stuff. Through her being awesome, we have become more awesome.
Subtle, I know. But without the ‘and,’ it’s arguably more powerful. Simpler. Simple is always better than complicated. Except it’s hard. It’s much easier to just include everything, to go on and on. For any photography geeks, it’s the same as how shooting with a telephoto lens is harder than a wide-angle. I’ve realized this, which has led me to be hyper-aware of seeing and using ‘and.’ Like discreetly, even in that email.
If you agree in the case of ‘and’ that less is more, that simpler is more powerful, I welcome you into the Hyper-Aware-Of-And Club. It’s a cool group. I also apologize because you’re going to start seeing it everywhere.
ps – Case in point… I originally wrote the first sentences of the second paragraph like this: I was reading over my wife’s shoulder (she loves that!). It was an email and for some dorky reason made me think of that innocent little conjunction. Re-reading it, I realized the ‘and’ was unnecessary and re-wrote it. Boom.
During our last workshop with a group of managers (some of whom are part of our little email family, so if they read these things they may get a kick out of this), I brought up the idea of having to take all the blame and pass off all the praise. It garnered a sort of visceral reaction. I was okay with that. This is why:
Let’s remember another time in 4th grade when I was small and would cry a lot because I was timid and we had field day and I was very sad about that and we had to shoot basketballs and I could not make a basket so another kid from my class was on my team and he told me he would shoot for us both so every basket he made he said “Good job Anna!” and every basket he missed he said “Aw darn I missed” that kid was a good kid I hope he’s doing good
That was a story Katie’s cousin shared on The Gram. She’s in her mid-20s, so that was probably fifteen years ago. Just like Beth’s story about Christopher Walken, Anna still remembers.