I was 6 weeks into a new assignment. The discovery process was grueling but it was beginning to provide insights. As I sat with one of the key players and my list of endless questions, I focused on learning more. I was working to fill in the gaps and put more “hair on the story” that would help drive the organization back to a growth path.
I was almost at the end of my questions, and he stopped me. He wanted to let me know he appreciated being part of the process and acknowledged I was asking the right questions. He made one thought provoking statement though – he said “What you don’t realize is that we know where all the dead bodies are. Over time, we’ve just learned to step around them to make it work. Your questions are kicking up the dust so we can think differently.”
My questions were kicking up some dust and helping to ignite a new way of thinking. I liked that.
But the dead bodies, what a visual. I have learned to like that analogy too. It reminds us what happens when we don’t do things that address the core issues. When we focus on the easier things that make the immediate pain less, but don’t fix the issues.
Those things don’t make us better just less sick.
Kicking the dust up is a key part of your leadership role. It helps keep everyone fresh in their thinking and willing to reexamine things that otherwise get left out because they aren’t new. And the best questions are really basic and core to the business or purpose of the organization.
What problem are we solving?
How does that add value to the solution?
Why do we…fill in the blank?
What are the alternatives?
Who is accountable, responsible and has the authority to make it happen?
They are also the ones that make people the most uncomfortable. Because, they feel you are in their details and begin to wonder if you don’t trust them or what trap you are setting for them. After all isn’t it your job to worry about the big picture, not the details. Yes that is true, but sometimes the best role of a leader is to think about the big things while you are doing small things. Because many times it’s the small things that help drive that forward movement and get things going in the right direction. And if you think about them ahead of time, it means they will be headed in the right direction when it matters most. It is really all about-
The process helps you see where the alignment issues are and where there is an opportunity to develop your team. Both issues, only you, as the leader can do anything about. So learn to kick up the dust, it will help you accelerate your impact as a leader and your team’s ability to do world class work.
And isn’t that the ultimate impact of a leader and what it means to lead your life? Strong competent individuals and teams that deliver world class performance, over and over again. That’s my goal, what about you?