by Cyndee Miller
It’s not often I’m told to act like a 4-year-old—and by the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, nonetheless.
But stick with me, there’s actually a sound business case here. Anyone who has ever been around a 4-year-old knows they ask lots of questions. And apparently, it’s a trait they share with CEOs at some of the world’s most innovative companies, from Pixar to Salesforce, explained Hal Gregersen.
“Questioners are truth seekers. They can’t afford errors. They have to get to the truth of the matter—and often it’s the tough fearless question that gets us there,” he said at PMO Symposium.
To be clear, we should strive to be innovative 4-year-olds as adults—and that means not only asking lots of questions, but better questions.
“The way we build better systems, better organizations and a better world is by asking the better question,” he said.
So how do you do it? Default to ask, not tell, Mr. Gregersen said, whether it’s an individual conversation, a team discussion or a customer interaction.
And you better make them good questions. That means devoting time specifically to coming up with questions—just as you would for brainstorming answers. Sit down with your team. Set a timer. And then write down as many questions about the problem as possible.
Now the whole point of asking questions is to take the time to learn, not act. So listen up and flex the power of the pause: Wait three to four seconds after someone stops talking—that’s typically when you’ll start to get the good stuff.
“In the hectic world of projects and leadership, we sometimes don’t stop enough,” Mr. Gregersen said. “But that’s how we build the trust to get the data in order to not get blindsided.”
It all boils down to one key question: “What are you doing to actively figure out what you don’t know you don’t know before it’s too late?”
Listening was also the lesson at the closing session of PMO Symposium. During an interactive musical performance by The Music Paradigm, maestro Roger Nierenberg urged the audience to tune into the dynamics of the orchestra—and observe the behaviors that allow the ensemble to succeed as a team.
“Musicians have the ability to play and listen at the same time,” he said. “It makes us alert and capable. It makes us very agile.”
And that goes for leaders most of all.
“As a conductor, when I was clear and dictatorial, I thought I was being kind by telling the orchestra exactly what to do. But it killed the listening,” Mr. Nierenberg said. “And that’s a precious thing.”
And that’s an official wrap for me. See you next year at PMO Symposium, 8-11 November 2020 in Orlando, Florida, USA.
I’ll be back on the event beat. As a reporter, I’ve spent years honing my questioning (and listening) skills, but I’m always looking for new ideas. What’s your top tip for asking the right questions?