questionAt the end of a recent week-long training, Ian, a frontline leader off an oil rig in the North Sea said, “The one thing I’ll remember and be able to do for sure is:

Question Before Suggestion.”


The catchy phrase was his own – we hadn’t used it in the course.  The other participants loved it. He was a solid, steady, go-to kind of guy, a guy who’s always gotten the job done.  He was also young for his position and quick with a smile. The two traits combined for a tough leadership challenge:


Ability + Likeability = You Get Asked All the Questions


Ian’s lesson from the course was: Don’t answer all of them. He said,

“I’ve become The Answer Man. All day long I get interrupted. A guy knocks on my door, ask me how to do something he’s licensed for, I tell him. He goes away & comes back a couple hours later with another question. It’s like that with everyone and I can’t get my job done. I don’t want to lock my door.”

How do so many of us become our team’s Chief Problem Solver?


First, it’s easy to have an “I’ll do it myself” mentality when you know you can. “It’s faster,” Ian said early in the week.

Second, he was so likeable and approachable he, more than most other participants, talked about interaction with his team as a time management challenge.  Many leaders need to learn to spend more time communicating with their direct reports; Ian needed to spend less or do it differently. Up until that moment, he’d given them the answers. This pattern sucked the innovation and initiative out of his team.

Immediately after Ian coined the phrase Question Before Suggestion another participant chimed in, “Yeah, and then they’ll have to start thinking for themselves!” Another participant added, “Right, and then they won’t come to me for all the answers eventually, they’ll come to me when they really have a good question.” They all started adding on, one-by-one, “Then I won’t get interrupted all day long.” “And they’ll be able to do more when I’m away.” “They’ll come up with new ideas and we can celebrate more of their successes instead of mine.” … and on and on. It was the easiest wrap-up I’ve ever conducted.

Thank you, Ian. Question Before Suggestion: a simple, no-cost tool for building initiative in your teams and fostering creativity.

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