Ask First … Then Shoot!

In EntreLeadership, I teach a section about the need to ask questions. Why is that part of the class? Well, here’s the thing: Way too often, leaders jump to conclusions. Something goes wrong or not the way they wanted it to; and bam, they’re ripping somebody’s head off.

When they’re done, the head that is still on the floor gives them something important—information they didn’t have. Information that now makes them look like an idiot! When you don’t take the time to ask simple questions, you end up cutting off any possibility for discussion. And believe it or not, it’s where the information lives.

You have to slow down and find out what’s really going on—whether something has gone wrong and you need to know what happened or someone has come to you with information about another person. The latter grates on my last nerve because I see it all of the time. Someone has an agenda, and the leader doesn’t take the time to actually talk to the person to find out what’s really happening.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your leadership skills and not look like an idiot:

  • Gather as much information as you can! Ask as many questions as possible to find out what happened. Nobody loses respect for a leader who does this. If you are digging to solve a problem, your team will think even more highly of you!
  • If you are receiving information from one person about another, call the other person in! There is no reason to make a judgment call on partial information. Besides, you’re only hearing one side of the story. I have watched leaders take information from someone they like about someone they don’t like, only to find out it’s wrong. Talk to all parties involved.
  • Allow those involved to give feedback. Always give them the opportunity to fill in any of the gaps that might be missing. Ask the questions, “Is there anything I don’t know about?” and “Is there anything you would like to tell me about this situation?”

As you open up these lines of communication, you’ll find that what seemed like one thing might be totally different. On top of that, your team will see that you care about what’s right—not just lopping off heads.

Questions: Have you ever jumped to a wrong conclusion? How did you fix it?

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29 thoughts on “Ask First … Then Shoot!”

  1. Great Advice Chris. I know leaders that do exactly the opposite of what you described here. The “pet” tells them something and they go on that alone. Makes for a bad environment.

  2. Yeah this is very slippery slope. People in general, but leaders in particular, have to work on not assuming, especially assuming the worst. Assumptions so often are wrong and while people don’t expect leaders to always be right, they do expect them to operate with integrity and respect. Assumptions can erode this.

  3. I consciously battle this every day. My knee-jerk response is so often an incorrect or incomplete conclusion that I have determined to not allow my first reaction to just pop out – and I am sure it has saved both heads on the floor as well as me losing respect of my coworkers over it. For me the “D” so badly wants to just immediately fix it that I have to override it with taking the time to get the details – while remaining calm & not judgemental during the gathering – so I can proceed in the right direction and actually be able to lead in a positive way to get the situation resolved or attended to. Very Difficult – but absolutely necessary for me.

    1. WOW!!! From one D to another – Mark, I’m really impressed!! Most D’s don’t get that. And even when they hear it, they find an excuse as to why their reactions are valid. Like it’s helping the other person. Your discovery is a sign of maturity. Well put sir.

  4. I especially like your third point about asking questions to those involved. I think it’s so important to establish the environment where workers feel comfortable sharing input. Working to build this atmosphere BEFORE you need it will pay dividends later on.

  5. Our pastor had an interesting analogy for this when he asked how many people salt their food before they taste it. If you haven’t tasted it first you may have just ruined a perfectly good meal. He was refering to recruiting new members to the church, recommending listening to the needs of the person before trying to ‘recruit’ the person based on our beliefs and needs. The lesson certainly applies here too.

    1. I knew an executive that would take a potential new hire out to dinner at an upscale restaurant. If they salted the food before they tasted it, he wouldn’t hire them.

  6. What a great post. Many leaders do this a lot and this drives me crazy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of this. It’s taught me not to do this when something goes wrong.

  7. It happens to the best of leaders. I’m tempted to tell a Dave story, but I won’t. I think it’s when there is a pattern of this behavior that you need to worry. Sadly, both employers and employees might have a hard time spotting this pattern before they start working together. Especially if they don’t do their due diligence before offering or accepting a job.

  8. I have been on the receiving end of this, and when confronted with it, i try to be very diplomatic about the whole thing, and do my best to correct the situation but at that point, sorry i have lost all respect for the individual as a leader.

    Unfortunantely it does affect how i’ll deal with him/her in future, and hard as i try my impressions of them will always be colored by that encounter, unless they do something, really special to prove me otherwise. If they repeat it, all bets are off:) It’s a work in progress, but how do you deal with this kind of situations if you are on the receiving end?.

  9. Great post, Chris. One of the leaders in my company recently explained The Ladder of Inferences to me. It comes from Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline – Fieldbook”, and explains how we adopt beliefs based on conclusions which are inferred from what we observe, plus our past experience.

    We then take action based on those conclusions and assumptions, and further we seek evidence to support those conclusions and assumptions going forward.

    Sadly, oftentimes we find that the conclusions we arrived at aren’t based on solid footing.

    I thought you might find The Ladder of Inferences an interesting subject for a follow-up post.

  10. I think the idea of a person coming to the wrong conclusion without all the information applies to everyone–not just leaders. So my guess is that everyone has been “guilty” at one time or another 🙂
    The times I have jumped to the wrong conclusions, I tell the person what I thought was meant and then apologize.

  11. I have done this so much as a manger or boss in the past that crow became my most popular meal. As we see our faults we must admit them to those we attacked wrongly. It was all those times of apologizing that implemented my desire to grow as a leader and not remain a boss or manager.

    I think the key to repairing those actions is for the leader to take full responsibility for his or her actions. If we can be accountable for our mistakes then there is hope for us.

    In my personal discovery journey it was my discovery that the reason I reacted that way was out of my own insecurity! Now I realize that I must focus on who I am and how to continue growing in order to remain secure in myself so I can hear the needs of others. Only secure people can ask questions because they are not afraid their name will come up. Just my thought!

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