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Leadership Questioning Example

February 20, 2014

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Peter, the chief operating officer, was concerned about one of his direct report’s (Gerry) leadership.

Gerry was the manager of a division that produced specialised animal feed. Gerry had been a production staff member for eight years before being promoted to his current role.

He had twenty staff in the production facility and another seven in the product development section. The production staff were largely blue collar workers whilst the development staff were technical and professional. They all had to work together.

The problem was that they didn’t work together well at all. In fact they never had. When Gerry was promoted he was tasked with bringing the disparate members together.

Now eighteen months into his role Gerry had made no ground at all.

Peter observed that Gerry was very brief in his communication with the development staff and avoided them when possible.

It was time for Peter to intervene. He asked Gerry to go for a coffee with him.

“Gerry, how are things going between the production crew and the tech staff?” he asked.

Gerry said “OK, they getting the job done.”

“Are we talking about current product range or new product development?” asked Peter.

“Current products actually. We haven’t made much progress yet with new product” replied Gerry.

“What’s the holdup?” Peter asked.

“I’ve yet to figure that out Pete” said Gerry.

“How well are they relating to the production staff?” asked Peter.

“They’re not” was Gerry’s short response.

“What can you do to resolve that Gerry?”

Gerry thought and kept silent for longer than Peter thought reasonable.

“Gerry, didn’t we agree that you’d resolve that as a priority?”

“Yes, but it has been a difficult task, they’ve been at logger heads for years now” explained Gerry.

“Gerry, how do you feel if I brought in our external consultant to help you resolve this?”

“I’d appreciate that” said Gerry quickly and with obvious relief.

“OK, one condition” said Peter.

“What’s that?” asked Gerry.

“That you learn exactly how the consultant resolves the matter; that you can do it on your own from then on; and that you show me in detail how you’d proceed if that situation were to occur again.”

Gerry thought for a moment and said with a smile “You’re on Pete, thank you. I appreciate what you’ve said. I have let the matter go on too long. I realise now that I’m part of the problem too.”

“That’s great Gerry, let’s make this work.”

Can you notice what Peter did?

Can you see that as a leader we must be able to question at depth whilst remaining respectful and on track?

What’s been your experience with this approach?

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