Are you a “hero leader?” Do you like to swoop in and save the day? Do you see yourself as the white knight who can solve any problem or challenge? If you do, you have what I refer to as “hero leader syndrome.” Any leader’s belief that he or she can do everything better than anyone else (even if it’s true) is a root cause of inhibiting workforce productivity. Creating unnecessary dependencies between leaders and team members, while often unintentional and/or well-intended, is nonetheless a far too common practice for the “hero leader.” In today’s post, we’ll take a look at the myth of the hero leader…

Is your workforce comprised of independent, highly motivated, and effective individuals, or is it built upon the limitations of employees completely dependent on you as their leader? Here’s a news flash…great leaders don’t create a state of dependency. In fact, they won’t allow dependencies to exist…rather they mandate independent thinking and decisioning. Many leaders struggle with understanding that rescuing is not the same thing as leading. Sound leadership actually prevents the need to rescue.

If you’re overworked, tired, and feeling stretched so far that your rubber-band is about to snap, it is likely because you are doing the work of your subordinates, rather than holding them accountable to perform their own duties. Your role as a leader is to develop talent to the highest levels of independent and autonomous thinking and execution. Great leaders don’t subscribe to a “Do-It-For-You” methodology of talent management, rather they lead, mentor, coach, and develop team members by getting them to buy-into a “Do-It-Yourself” work ethic.

Great leaders view each interaction, question, or even conflict as a coaching opportunity. Don’t answer questions or solve problems just because you can rather teach your employees how to do it for themselves. If you make it a habit of solving problems for people, you simply teach them to come to you for solutions at the first sign of a challenge. Great leaders don’t allow themselves to be placed in this position. They don’t allow employees to leverage them, they leverage the employee, and in doing so, it’s a win for the executive, the employee and the enterprise as a whole.

The trick is to meet questions, challenges, conflicts, etc., with intelligent questions of your own. You need to meet questions with questions. Questions allow you to direct the conversation and not be sucked into it. By redirecting the flow of a conversation, you elicit critical information and show that you care about what the other person is thinking.

The following 5 tips will allow you to ask effective questions:

  1. Be sincere in your questioning. Forget about what’s in it for you, and think about how you can help the person you’re communicating with. Do not manipulate or control the other person, but make an honest effort to find out how you can help them achieve their objectives by coaching them and not just serving up a solution on a silver platter.
  2. Learn to ask effective questions. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Use questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how in an attempt to enable dialogue. If the other person is doing all the sharing of information, you will find yourself in the enviable position of being able to assess, evaluate, and synthesize the information being shared. While the other party is talking…you are learning. Once you understand what the issues are you’re now in a better position to coach and teach.
  3. Use questions to stimulate and challenge. Ask questions that are insightful such that they require thought to be answered. Help people understand how bright they are and where their talents and gifts are by setting a high chinning bar. When you engage people with stimulating and probing conversation they learn and grow.
  4. Get personal in your questioning. Use questions that encourage the other person to reveal their thoughts and emotions. These questions will help you truly get to know the other party and to build common ground and rapport. If you can move beyond the analytical to the personal, the other party is much more likely to reveal their bias or agenda.
  5. Demonstrate your competency without giving the answer away. Ask questions that reveal your subject matter expertise, and that demonstrates your ability to provide meaningful solutions without actually doing so. These types of questions should engender credibility, and therefore provide the other party with confidence that you can handle the situation in a manner that is in alignment with their best interests. Force people to move beyond surface-level discussions by taking them past their comfort zones with intelligent questioning. Never settle for the general, ambiguous, vague, or standard answer. Continue probing until you are satisfied with the answer.

If you want to become a great leader, master the art of teaching and coaching through the application of skillful questioning. Work on developing a list of well thought out questions that are situational, industry-specific, product-specific, market-specific, positionally specific, etc., and use them to put you in a position to help others, not by feeding them, but by teaching them how to fish…