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Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!

Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!
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    Don’t depend on answers in uncertain times

    We live in a world that seems endlessly hungry for answers: preferably quick, unambiguous, definitive, once-and-for-all, simple answers. We want to be told what to do, how to solve our problems, how to live our lives to best effect. At work, bosses grind out the old chestnut, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Politicians running for office are expected to come up with the answers to the nation’s greatest difficulties, long before they ever get to the elected position that would allow them to see any of the available, detailed information.

    In our personal lives as well, we want nice, simple recipes for coping. Hence the huge popularity of articles with titles like: “Five simple ways to . . .” or “How to deal with . . . once and for all.”

    But what if I suggested that answers aren’t all they’re expected to be; and that what you need most of all are more questions, even if — especially if — you have no idea how to answer them?

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    Answers too easily prove wrong

    The trouble with answers is that they are quite often wrong: anywhere from totally, hopelessly wrong to just far enough off the right track to produce unexpected future problems. Questions are rarely wrong enough to be useless. Even the wrong questions can lead to unexpected but useful insights. The right question is worth much more than the right answer, since nearly every answer applies only in certain given circumstances, whereas a good question is a good question almost anywhere.

    Science used to be based rigorously on questions, not answers. Every ‘answer’ was judged to be no more than provisional — a theory only — waiting to be disproved by someone with better techniques, more data or greater insight. No area of scientific knowledge was out-of-bounds to questioners; however firmly, or for however long, its theories had been accepted. Sir Isaac Newton supplied the final answer to how the universe worked, until new techniques came along, Einstein arrived, and more than two centuries of scientific ‘knowledge’ was overturned. Now science too is pushed, pressurized and exhorted to produce definite answers, so that the conclusions of research are instantly announced as fact by the media — only to be overturned later by new ‘facts’.

    Answers represent dead ends

    The more definitive and widely accepted the ‘answer’, the more it prevents people from seeing how it will turn out to be wrong. Once you think you know, for a fact, that things work in a particular way — or the answer to problem ‘a’ is always technique ‘b’ — there’s no need to explore any further. Of course, over time, the world changes, but almost nobody looks to see if that affects what they already know for sure — until the unthinkable happens and our nice, simple answers stop working.

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    The world of business is especially prone to relying on widely accepted ‘right’ answers — until they aren’t answers any more. Only then do people run around in a panic trying to find some other way. And when they find one, what do they do? You’ve got it. They quickly stop looking further. Having so many problems to deal with, they gratefully shelve that one as ‘solved’ and forget about it. As one of the guest authors on my Slow Leadership blog explained recently, they play ‘Whack-a-mole Management.’ A problem shows its head; they whack it with some suitable mallet, forget it, and look around to see where the next one will pop up.

    Answers kill creativity

    Creativity is only needed when you don’t know the best way to do something — or suspect the accepted answer isn’t as good as everyone else seems to think. If you truly believe that there is one, right answer to a problem and you already know what it is, what is there to be creative about?

    Questions, of course, are exactly the opposite. They are the life-blood of all creativity. One of the main differences between naturally creative people and the rest is that the creative types are never satisfied with whatever answers they have. They distrust them on principle. Give them an answer and they get cranky and try to prove it isn’t an answer at all. Give them a question, and they’re as happy as a child playing in a sand pit. First they create this answer, only to trample it down and use the ‘sand’ to build another one. What annoys ‘practical’ people about creative types is that they never stop asking questions. What drives creative people wild about ‘practical’ types is that they rarely start.

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    Don’t build your life around what you think you already know

    What takes this topic out of the realm of philosophy and into everyday life is the understanding that any life built around a set of supposedly firm, known answers is like a huge tree in the path of a hurricane. It looks wonderfully solid and unshakeable, but when the winds get wild enough, they are going to snap it into matchwood. With no capacity to bend or change under the onslaught, it either survives until the next attack — perhaps badly damaged — or is destroyed. All it can do is resist and hope for the best.

    People who know the answers in advance — or believe they do — suffer the same fate. They resist or ignore changing circumstances until something comes along that is stronger than they are. Then their carefully constructed, stable lives are ripped up and ruined. With no other options, and little practice in finding any, they are often damaged beyond repair.

    In contrast, the small bushes and saplings bend and twist. Some are uprooted and some are damaged, but most make it through, despite being far, far weaker than the great tree now lying dead and in ruins. Buildings designed to flex can survive earthquakes. Rigid ones collapse.

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    A life is better built around questions

    When you build your life and career around questions, you’re always looking to see how you can find better ways of dealing with whatever events throw at you. Since you don’t assume you already know all the answers, you keep exploring — often finding along the way all kinds of unexpected and wonderful treasures you didn’t know were there. Change is easy and natural. If parts of your life get blown apart, your creativity can quickly get to work to make good the damage. Even in bad times, you probably won’t just survive; you’ll find life’s storms have opened up pathways that weren’t open to you before.

    Here’s one recipe for becoming stronger, wiser and much more able to survive bad times:

    1. Don’t seek to have all the answers; seek out more questions, even if they seem to threaten what you think you know.
    2. Always distrust what answers you have now; they’re probably less firm that they appear to be.
    3. Don’t accept others’ answers, however loudly they parade them as incontrovertible facts; almost nothing out there is as secure as that.
    4. Above all, don’t trot out neat, second-hand solutions. Stick to messy, first-hand problems, ask questions continually and find your own way forward.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    10 Huge Differences Between A Boss And A Leader

    10 Huge Differences Between A Boss And A Leader

    When you try to think of a leader at your place of work, you might think of your boss – you know, the supervisor in the tasteful office down the hall.

    However, bosses are not the only leaders in the office, and not every boss has mastered the art of excellent leadership. Maybe the best leader you know is the co-worker sitting at the desk next to yours who is always willing to loan out her stapler and help you problem solve.

    You see, a boss’ main priority is to efficiently cross items off of the corporate to-do list, while a true leader both completes tasks and works to empower and motivate the people he or she interacts with on a daily basis.

    A leader is someone who works to improve things instead of focusing on the negatives. People acknowledge the authority of a boss, but people cherish a true leader.

    Puzzled about what it takes to be a great leader? Let’s take a look at the difference between a boss and a leader, and why cultivating quality leadership skills is essential for people who really want to make a positive impact.

    1. Leaders are compassionate human beings; bosses are cold.

    It can be easy to equate professionalism with robot-like impersonal behavior. Many bosses stay holed up in their offices and barely ever interact with staff.

    Even if your schedule is packed, you should always make time to reach out to the people around you. Remember that when you ask someone to share how they are feeling, you should be prepared to be vulnerable and open in your communication as well.

    Does acting human at the office sound silly? It’s not.

    A lack of compassion in the office leads to psychological turmoil, whereas positive connection leads to healthier staff.[1]

    If people feel that you are being open, honest and compassionate with them, they will feel able to approach your office with what is on their minds, leading to a more productive and stress-free work environment.

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    2. Leaders say “we”; bosses say “I”.

    Practice developing a team-first mentality when thinking and speaking. In meetings, talk about trying to meet deadlines as a team instead of using accusatory “you” phrases. This makes it clear that you are a part of the team, too, and that you are willing to work hard and support your team members.

    Let me explain:

    A “we” mentality shifts the office dynamic from “trying to make the boss happy” to a spirit of teamwork, goal-setting, and accomplishment.

    A “we” mentality allows for the accountability and community that is essential in the modern day workplace.

    3. Leaders develop and invest in people; bosses use people.

    Unfortunately, many office climates involve people using others to get what they want or to climb the corporate ladder. This is another example of the “me first” mentality that is so toxic in both office environments and personal relationships.

    Instead of using others or focusing on your needs, think about how you can help other people grow.

    Use your building blocks of compassion and team-mentality to stay attuned to the needs of others note the areas in which you can help them develop. A great leader wants to see his or her people flourish.

    Make a list of ways you can invest in your team members to help them develop personally and professionally, and then take action!

    4. Leaders respect people; bosses are fear-mongering.

    Earning respect from everyone on your team will take time and commitment, but the rewards are worth every ounce of effort.

    A boss who is a poor leader may try to control the office through fear and bully-like behavior. Employees who are petrified about their performance or who feel overwhelmed and stressed by unfair deadlines are probably working for a boss who uses a fear system instead of a respect system.

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    What’s the bottom line?

    Work to build respect among your team by treating everyone with fairness and kindness. Maintain a positive tone and stay reliable for those who approach you for help.

    5. Leaders give credit where it’s due; bosses only take credits.

    Looking for specific ways to gain respect from your colleagues and employees? There is no better place to start than with the simple act of giving credit where it is due.

    Don’t be tempted to take credit for things you didn’t do, and always go above and beyond to generously acknowledge those who worked on a project and performed well.

    You might be wondering how you can get started:

    • Begin by simply noticing which team member contributes what during your next project at work.
    • If possible, make mental notes. Remember that these notes should not be about ways in which team members are failing, but about ways in which they are excelling.
    • Depending on your leadership style, let people know how well they are doing either in private one-on-one meetings or in a group setting. Be honest and generous in your communication about a person’s performance.

    6. Leaders see delegation as their best friend; bosses see it as an enemy.

    If delegation is a leader’s best friend, then micromanagement is the enemy.

    Delegation equates to trust and micromanagement equates to distrust. Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than feeling that his or her every movement is being critically observed.

    Encourage trust in your office by delegating important tasks and acknowledging that your people are capable, smart individuals who can succeed!

    Delegation is a great way to cash in on the positive benefits of a psychological phenomenon called a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, a person’s expectations of another person can cause the expectations to be fulfilled.[2]

    In other words, if you truly believe that your team member can handle a project or task, he or she is more likely to deliver.

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    Learn how to delegate in my other article:

    How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    7. Leaders work hard; bosses let others do the work.

    Delegation is not an excuse to get out of hard work. Instead of telling people to go accomplish the hardest work alone, make it clear that you are willing to pitch in and help with the hardest work of all when the need arises.

    Here’s the deal:

    Showing others that you work hard sets the tone for your whole team and will spur them on to greatness.

    The next time you catch yourself telling someone to “go”, a.k.a accomplish a difficult task alone, change your phrasing to “let’s go”, showing that you are totally willing to help and support.

    8. Leaders think long-term; bosses think short-term.

    A leader who only utilizes short-term thinking is someone who cannot be prepared or organized for the future. Your colleagues or staff members need to know that they can trust you to have a handle on things not just this week, but next month or even next year.

    Display your long-term thinking skills in group talks and meetings by sharing long-term hopes or concerns. Create plans for possible scenarios and be prepared for emergencies.

    For example, if you know that you are losing someone on your team in a few months, be prepared to share a clear plan of how you and the remaining team members can best handle the change and workload until someone new is hired.

    9. Leaders are like your colleagues; bosses are just bosses.

    Another word for colleague is collaborator. Make sure your team knows that you are “one of them” and that you want to collaborate or work side by side.

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    Not getting involved in the going ons of the office is a mistake because you will miss out on development and connection opportunities.

    As our regular readers know, I love to remind people of the importance of building routines into each day. Create a routine that encourages you to leave your isolated office and collaborate with others. Spark healthy habits that benefit both you and your co-workers.

    10. Leaders put people first; bosses put results first.

    Bosses without crucial leadership training may focus on process and results instead of people. They may stick to a pre-set systems playbook even when employees voice new ideas or concerns.

    Ignoring people’s opinions for the sake of company tradition like this is never truly beneficial to an organization.

    Here’s what I mean by process over people:

    Some organizations focus on proper structures or systems as their greatest assets instead of people. I believe that people lend real value to an organization, and that focusing on the development of people is a key ingredient for success in leadership.

    Learning to be a leader is an ongoing adventure.

    This list of differences makes it clear that, unlike an ordinary boss, a leader is able to be compassionate, inclusive, generous, and hard-working for the good of the team.

    Instead of being a stereotypical scary or micromanaging-obsessed boss, a quality leader is able to establish an atmosphere of respect and collaboration.

    Whether you are new to your work environment or a seasoned administrator, these leadership traits will help you get a jump start so that you can excel as a leader and positively impact the people around you.

    For more inspiration and guidance, you can even start keeping tabs on some of the world’s top leadership experts. With an adventurous and positive attitude, anyone can learn good leadership.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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