10 Questions Your Team Is Afraid to Ask

Your team has questions they’re afraid to ask. They’ve got limited information, but they figure if you wanted to tell them you would. They worry that raising the issue will look like insubordination, or somehow make them look less in your eyes. Maybe you can share, maybe you can’t. But that doesn’t make the questions go away. There is value in anticipating the questions that may be on people’s minds and to start the conversation. I’ve been asking around for input into one simple question “What question would you most like to ask your leadership (but are afraid to).”I’ve also been asking a similar question of the leaderhip consultants and coaches I hang around, “What questions do you think employees are most afraid to ask their leaders?” Here are the top 10. Please add yours.

10 Questions Your Teams Afraid to Ask

  1. Why are we doing it this way?
  2. How’s our company really doing?
  3. Why didn’t you ask us?
  4. Why is _____________ not dealt with?
  5. If I speak up, will it hurt my brand?
  6. Do you think I’m ready for a promotion?
  7. Why is there so much turnover ?
  8. How can we get past this feeling of constant crises?
  9. Is this really as urgent as you’re making it out to be?
  10.  ________________________ (what’s your #10?)

Conversation Starters

If you want your team to ask more of their scary questions, here are a few ways you can start the conversation.

  • If I were you, I might be wondering…
  • The last time something like this happened I had a lot of questions such as __________
  • I just read this blog post about questions your team’s afraid to ask, and it made me wonder, what questions do you have that I might be able to answer 😉

Ignoring the tough questions, doesn’t make them go away. In fact, your team is likely asking the questions, to themselves and to one another. Tackling the tough conversations head on will go a long way in building trust and respect on your team.

How To Ensure Your Greatest Fears Come True

After a hectic but fun Saturday morning of speaking on a Lead Change panel and schlepping my son to baseball practice and art lessons, Sebastian and I decided to try out the newish Ethiopian restaurant for lunch.

“Every man, through fear, mugs his aspiration a dozen times a day.”
~ Brendan Francis

The place wasn’t crowded and the engaging owner did the cooking, waiting, and busing himself. The food was amazing. I asked how long he had been in business (a year), and admitted that I had never realized the place was there. We were politely interrupted by a woman asking to see the dessert menu.

“Oh no, we don’t carry desserts. I fear not enough people will want them. Once we really get things going, I’ll feel confident to expand the menu.”

As he came back to our table,Sebastian 8-years old, apparently now my Chief Marketing Officer, offered:

“You know, I think my mommy might really be able to help you with your business (I’m now searching for a menu to duck behind). She knows a lot about leadership and making money. You see she…”

The fantastic chef shared his story: “I’m a really good cook. My friends all told me I should open a restaurant. I’m taking a cautious approach. I know this location is not ideal (it’s really tucked away), but I didn’t want to invest much in location, until I knew for sure it would be a success. I want to attract a crowd, but it’s hard.”

He must have seen me glance around (I’ve never been accused of having a poker face).

“Yeah, I didn’t want to invest too much in decor to start either. Same philosophy. Better to play it safe, it might not work out. Once I have more customers, I’ll make the place more attractive. I have a vision.”

I had already picked up a take-out menu, because I couldn’t imagine convincing my husband this was a great place for romantic dining so I asked, “have you ever considered letting your customers bring their own wine at dinner?” (several really successful BYOBs are within a 5 mile radius) in similar rustic locations.

“Oh no. The insurance would be too much, you know and there’s the fear that a fight could break out.”

Okay, I don’t know about you, but the last fear on my mind when I plan for an evening of romantic ethnic dining (in a Suburban area) is a brawl. His fears were driving his business plan. A coat of paint, some sorbet in the freezer it wouldn’t take much. What was he really afraid of?

When Fear Takes Control

Fear based thinking happens in big business too:

  • “Let’s be like Zappos and truly empower our customer service reps to do what’s right for the customer. BUT if they need to give a credit over ten bucks they need to bring in a supervisor.”
  • “Forbes and Fast Company have great ideas about leadership. Joe has fantastic business results, and everyone wants to work for him, but, his approach is still unconventional for our culture. Not sure he’ll play that well in the board room, better promote the guy that leads like us.”
  • “Sure access to social media at work would help our employees promote our company, BUT what if they say something stupid?”
  • “I have a great idea, but what if my boss hates it? Better to lay low and do what she thinks is best.”

Don’t let fear stop your greatness. We need your creative cooking in our neck of the woods.

Trickle Down Intimidation

Mark shuts the door and begins the emergency meeting. What he’s got to say isn’t easy, but these guys can handle it. That’s why they “get paid the big bucks.” He minces no words. Stock prices, competitive pressures, time to get it together. NOW. The intimidation factor is high. Fix it fast or else.

He would NEVER speak this way to the front line. He’s an inspiring speaker and the troops love him. He trusts his leaders will translate the message to the front line well.

Grace leaves Mark’s meeting a bit shaken, but the message is clear. Time to call an emergency huddle with her direct reports. They were in the midst of executing plans to address key issues, but she worries it won’t be fast enough. She needs to show progress NOW. She feels her job is on the line.

She doesn’t usually take the fear and intimidation route, but she needs to get her team’s attention. Plus, her team can handle it. They’re seasoned leaders and they understand the pressure. She would never NEVER speak that way to the front line. She trusts her team will translate the message well.

Bill leaves Grace’s meeting a bit shocked. “Wow,” he thinks. “She NEVER acts this way. She doesn’t even seem to want our input. She just told us what to do.” Bill’s concerned his team leaders won’t buy into her plan. After all, it’s been a crazy couple of months and they’re all about to tip over.

But the situation is serious, Time to be a good soldier and just salute. He’s scared too. His mortgage is still underwater, and his daughter is headed to college next year. This is no time to stand out as a naysayer. He would NEVER let the front-line see his stress. But, he trusts his managers will get the message and translate it well.

Bill calls a meeting of his team leaders and lays it all on the line. It’s an execution issue and they need to fix it now, a little bit of intimidation can’t hurt. He needs the team to know he’s serious. He hands everyone a report with the names of everyone below goal.

“I want you to fix this, by holding one-on-one coaching with everyone on this list today. Then report back to me on each person. I want to know if it’s a will issue or a skills issue.” Bill knows he’s being a bit rough. He would NEVER talk that way to the front line. But he’s got good team leaders who know how to handle this stuff. They’ll figure out a way to coach to the right skills and do something fun to motivate.

One of Bill’s team leaders, Kathy, gets the outlier report and hears his message loud and clear. She leaves the meeting and then…

Intimidation Amplifies as it Rolls Down Hill

The same leaders who carefully craft inspiring messages for the frontline, may be undercutting their efforts by inadvertent trickle down intimidation. Fear is contagious. Leaders watch the level above them and take their cues on how to act and what to say.

They also fill in the blanks.” If THIS is what they ARE telling me, then what they AREN’T sharing must be even worse.”

“Hmm…this behavior made these guys successful. I want to be successful too, I’d better toughen up.”

Each leader puts their finger prints on the message, and the light touch of intimidation, becomes a frightening slap at the front-line. The folks closest to the work do as they’re told, afraid to share the ideas that would solve the problem.

Be careful not to inadvertently delegate your translation. Treat your team like you want them to treat others.

Say what you mean in the way you want it to be heard at the front-line.

7 Ways To Inspire Courage

You know they can do it. They’re scared. Their lack of courage is a downward spiral. Fear stops trying. Lack of trying creates doubt. Doubt affirms negative self-perceptions. It breaks my heart to watch highly qualified, talented people let scared stop them.

And yet, it’s hard for those born with a few extra confidence genes to build courage in others. Skills that come naturally are hardest to teach.

Courage Drowns at 60 Feet

Apparently, I needed a dose of scared.

During the last day of Scuba certification, 60 feet under the crystal blue oceans of Bonaire, I stopped breathing. Oh, air was flowing. But the pristine water suddenly turned dark, and crushed my lungs. Panicked, I signaled to Sven, our Scuba instructor. “UP!” He looked confused. Now I signaled more aggressively, “I NEED TO GO UP, NOW.”

He checked my equipment, looked at me curiously and gently signed “No.” Now more frantic, I started to kick powerfully and swim up. He grabbed my BCD, deflated his, and held me down. Surfacing too soon would create medical problems. He calmly signaled that we would go up, together, and slowly. My husband and son watched curiously. Why was mom, a former lifeguard, competitive swimmer and triathlete freaking out?

7 Ways to Build Courage

Sven knew how he reacted to my panic mattered. He also knew that he couldn’t certify someone who could potentially lose it diving in a remote area of the Island. How he reacted below and above the surface made all the difference.

 Sven’s Approach to Courage

courage

  1. Stay calm
    Confidence inspires courage. Sven didn’t react to my reaction. He never looked worried.
  2. Establish partnership
    “I’ve got you.” “We’re going to do this together.” “I’m not going to let you drown.”
  3. Ask questions
    When we got safely to shore he asked lots of questions to understand the scene. “When had I started to feel uncomfortable?” What did it feel like? Were there signs of Nitrogen Narcosis?. Surely such an absurd reaction had an explanation.
  4. Reinforce competence
    Sven reassured in his Dutch accent that I was fully competent. “Karin, you’ve mastered all the skills and demonstrated them well.” “ You know all the standby skills.” You know what to do in any emergency.”
  5. Naming the fear
    “The biggest risk now is that you become afraid of your reaction to your fear. You weren’t afraid of going deep before, so there’s no reason you should again, unless you tell yourself you’re going to be afraid.
  6. Straight talk
    “I know you can do this, and want to certify you. If you panic again, I can’t.” There are consequences to low self-confidence. We can’t risk putting people in certain positions, for their safety and others.
  7. Encouragement
    “You’ve got this. Let’s try again.”

We did. The next dive led to certification. Certification led to a wonderful week of diving all over the Island, including remote areas. No fear, just fun.

Managing Up When You’re Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

Managing Up When You're Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

Boss Says and Other Stupid Games "Leaders" Play

Weak managers hide behind powerful. Wimpy leaders fear their own opinions. Teams can’t follow pass through. Be inspired by your boss. Understand their vision. Then, make it your own.

Never play, “my boss says.” Copycats don’t inspire vision, build trust, motivate greatness, or develop anyone.

Don’t enable teams to pull the “boss says” lever.

As Kouzes and Posner explain, “If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not, in the long-term, be able to be consistent in word and deed. You will not have the integrity to lead.” -Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Watch a “boss sayser” closely. They likely wimp out in other ways too. Don’t count on them to tell the truth, up down or sideways.

Great leaders don’t play games.

Own Your Words & Actions

When the decision is unpopular or you disagree, it’s tempting to credit or blame those above. Don’t. Your team trusts you. Your boss is scary. Your bosses boss is even scarier. Big titles feel scary from afar.

  • Understand
  • Ask questions
  • Voice concerns
  • Work through your apprehension
  • Listen
  • Share pros and cons
  • Own it
  • Do what you say

Boss Says and Other Stupid Games “Leaders” Play

Weak managers hide behind powerful. Wimpy leaders fear their own opinions. Teams can’t follow pass through. Be inspired by your boss. Understand their vision. Then, make it your own.

Never play, “my boss says.” Copycats don’t inspire vision, build trust, motivate greatness, or develop anyone.

Don’t enable teams to pull the “boss says” lever.

As Kouzes and Posner explain, “If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not, in the long-term, be able to be consistent in word and deed. You will not have the integrity to lead.” -Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Watch a “boss sayser” closely. They likely wimp out in other ways too. Don’t count on them to tell the truth, up down or sideways.

Great leaders don’t play games.

Own Your Words & Actions

When the decision is unpopular or you disagree, it’s tempting to credit or blame those above. Don’t. Your team trusts you. Your boss is scary. Your bosses boss is even scarier. Big titles feel scary from afar.

  • Understand
  • Ask questions
  • Voice concerns
  • Work through your apprehension
  • Listen
  • Share pros and cons
  • Own it
  • Do what you say

5 Ways to Drive Results Through Fear and Intimidation

You’re on the fast track. You don’t need sustained results, you need quick wins. Results matter. You’ve got a review coming up. With a few simple tactics, you can get your organization performing in no time. You’ll be promoted and someone else can deal with the fall out.

5 Ways to Drive Results Through Fear and Intimidation

1. Prey on their Insecurity

Employees are inherently lazy. They can work harder, they just need the proper motivation. Threaten their jobs (this is easier now in a bad economy). Announce a downsizing, but don’t give any details. That will keep them on their toes.

2. Create Competition

It’s all about the stack rank. Don’t reward behaviors, reward results. When employees help others, take them aside and explain the consequences (see #1).

3. Expand Hours

It’s only common sense. The more they work, the more they will get done. Cancel vacations. Create weekend projects. Sunday mornings are a great time for emergency conference calls.

4. Raise Your Voice

Fear creates adrenaline. It’s better than Red Bull. Raise your voice. This works best when you single out an employee in front of their peers. Yell at one, get everyone moving. You must time it carefully. Keep your calm demeanor when managing up. This will help dispel any potential concerns about your style.

5. Hold Daily Check-Ins

Empowerment is the invention of academicians and sappy bloggers. For fast results, micromanage. Hold daily check-ins with each employee. Never be satisfied. I find it best to practice exacerbated facial expressions on my way to work (a little cosmetic mirror works just fine). If you can’t master the facials, try deep sighs.

Happy April Fools Day from Let’s Grow Leaders. If any of this sounded familiar, attractive (and especially if it ticked you off, please subscribe by entering your email address. We have a growing community of interactive leaders sharing their leadership ideas.

Footnote: Concerned that my International followers would think me insane, I leaned that many countries celebrate similar practical joking days in the Spring, April Fools Day Traditions Around the World.

Why Aren’t You Leading?

My friend ran up to me while we were waiting to pick up our kids. “I’ve got this great idea and I know a lot of people are interested.” I listened. It was brilliant. I was ready to sign up to help. But next she shared, “Nobody’s asked me to start leading it, so why should I volunteer?” And then, “I keep hoping somebody else will step up and take the lead.” I couldn’t help but think that “somebody” was me.

Let me get this right. It’s a great idea. And you COULD do it. You WANT to do it. But you WON’T because no one has THOUGHT of asking you?

“Yeah, I’m just waiting. It would be a lot of work.”
“If you lead it, I will help you,” I offered.
She quickly changed the subject.

She was perfect for the leadership role. Her feelings were hurt, she wanted someone to invite her to lead. Not just someone. The right someone. She is still waiting. No one is leading. The effort is effortless.

“No One Asked Me”

Perhaps this is happening to you. You care deeply. Change must happen. They need you. You are qualified. You have big ideas.

  • “I’m not sure I’m ready.”
  • “I might fail”
  • “I’m scared”
  • “It’s too much work”
  • “I’m too busy”
  • “No one asked me.”

No one is going to ask you to lead.

  • It’s unlikely that the guys in the department down the hall are sitting around thinking of you for that special assignment
  • The folks at church see how much you already have on your plate and think you’re too busy
  • The PTA has no idea you have talent
  • You can see the obvious next step, what makes you sure it’s clear to others?

Leading or Losing

If you wait to be asked, it’s less likely you will have to do anything. If you don’t do it, you cannot fail. Try:

  • Starting small: offer to do the pilot, or one session
  • Co-leading: 2 heads are a great way to start
  • Submitting a proposal
  • Volunteering for a similar effort and take notes
  • ?
  • Or follow this twitter LEADER.

@LetsGrowLeaders I always was a follower but I feel with God’s help I can be a leader. Amen.

Why Aren't You Leading?

My friend ran up to me while we were waiting to pick up our kids. “I’ve got this great idea and I know a lot of people are interested.” I listened. It was brilliant. I was ready to sign up to help. But next she shared, “Nobody’s asked me to start leading it, so why should I volunteer?” And then, “I keep hoping somebody else will step up and take the lead.” I couldn’t help but think that “somebody” was me.

Let me get this right. It’s a great idea. And you COULD do it. You WANT to do it. But you WON’T because no one has THOUGHT of asking you?

“Yeah, I’m just waiting. It would be a lot of work.”
“If you lead it, I will help you,” I offered.
She quickly changed the subject.

She was perfect for the leadership role. Her feelings were hurt, she wanted someone to invite her to lead. Not just someone. The right someone. She is still waiting. No one is leading. The effort is effortless.

“No One Asked Me”

Perhaps this is happening to you. You care deeply. Change must happen. They need you. You are qualified. You have big ideas.

  • “I’m not sure I’m ready.”
  • “I might fail”
  • “I’m scared”
  • “It’s too much work”
  • “I’m too busy”
  • “No one asked me.”

No one is going to ask you to lead.

  • It’s unlikely that the guys in the department down the hall are sitting around thinking of you for that special assignment
  • The folks at church see how much you already have on your plate and think you’re too busy
  • The PTA has no idea you have talent
  • You can see the obvious next step, what makes you sure it’s clear to others?

Leading or Losing

If you wait to be asked, it’s less likely you will have to do anything. If you don’t do it, you cannot fail. Try:

  • Starting small: offer to do the pilot, or one session
  • Co-leading: 2 heads are a great way to start
  • Submitting a proposal
  • Volunteering for a similar effort and take notes
  • ?
  • Or follow this twitter LEADER.

@LetsGrowLeaders I always was a follower but I feel with God’s help I can be a leader. Amen.

The Input Paradox

When you take your leadership seriously, you are on a constant search for input.

“How am I doing?”
“What do you think”
“How did that go?”
“Am I on your short list?”

Before I go any further, let me stop and warn you.

This is one of those “do what I say not as a I do” posts.

I don’t have this handled.

Maybe you wrestle with this too.

Perhaps we can work on it together.

The Trouble With Input

Leading well is edgy.

You will tick people off.

And if you are leading well, you will be on a constant search for how you can lead better.

At any given point you will have just annoyed someone. In fact, at any given time, you may have done something that really made them mad.

And thus the Input Paradox

In an ideal world, when we make our courageous choices, there will be a locker room of support, patting us on the back, yelling.

“HOORAY FOR YOU.”

The truth is, your most courageous moves will likely be made quietly if you are lucky.

More probable, those moves will be made against opposition and naysayers. Your best decisions may be made with very few saying “amen”. In fact, they may be made against such an onslaught of differing views that you begin to question your own motives, values and credibility.

Here’s where it get’s tough.

Should you listen absolutely? perhaps? no way?

In my life, all of those have been the right answers to input received from credible sources.

Good Advice, Kept Warm

Some of the best input I ever received from a senior leader was this:

“I question your stance on X.But Karin, stop thinking about what we all think. That’s just going to make you bat shi_. Keep your head down, do the right thing. Lead courageously, and get results. That’s all that matters. If that’s not enough, that’s too bad.”

I have been carrying that in my heart. It goes a long way.

At the end of the day, you must lead from you.

If you lead to please, and it hurts your heart, something is wrong.

In fact, in might just make you “bat shi_.”

it’s worth a close listen to your heart.

Move and lead from there.