Sunday, May 28Welcome

Good leadership is asking the right questions – Chris Wilson

Former Prime Minister James Callaghan recalled an exchange with the Queen. He was dealing with a particularly thorny issue and was struggling. During one of his weekly audiences with the Queen, he decided to ask what he could do. He was quick to reply… “That’s why you get paid big bucks.”

I don’t think the Queen didn’t have an answer. I’m sure she has But presenting her point of view narrows his horizons. All options had to be considered without prejudice, considering all context and facts. Once you’ve decided, of course, she can give her opinion on the plan, share her wisdom, and actually challenge him if necessary, but don’t tell him what to do.

I have been fortunate to lead great organizations and have experienced many different leadership styles. This exchange struck a chord with me because it was so in line with my recent (and you might find it very obvious) perceptions of leadership. No, with good leadership.

Chris Wilson, partner and co-founder of Opto Advisory

Good leadership is not the ability to use wisdom and experience to come up with good answers. Vanity can get us into its trap. Good leadership is using the same attributes to ask good questions.

So it’s not “you should” or “if I…”. Instead, “Why is this happening?” or simply “What do you think?” Small changes, but big differences.

And I know it works because I’ve been through it…

“How did that happen?” I asked the pro when I hit another wild slice with the 6-iron at golf lesson. Initially this was a huge source of frustration for me. Booked a lesson where a pro will tell you why it’s happening. We both persevered…”Maybe my swing was a little shaky?” “Okay, how could that be?” The pro soothed my amateur his golf brain and figured out what had gone wrong. Then, when we narrowed down the problem to the game’s (many) most critical problems, the next question was, “What can we do about it?” And then, “Okay, let’s do it.”

And so the trial and error process of fixing my game issues continued. Miraculously (and painfully for him, I think), his shots began to straighten, his flight paths improved, and he actually started hitting what looked like golf shots. Said:

“I wasn’t on the golf course with you when you started hitting bad shots.

So whether it’s a repeated slice or a global crisis, good leadership is not about communicating. Like a queen, it’s about taking the time to ask great questions and helping people get the most out of themselves when it matters in the moment.

Chris Wilson, partner and co-founder of Opto Advisory

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