One of the best books I have read on leadership was one I read when my children were moving from elementary age to their teen years. That was several years ago now. I knew those would be crucial years. We had read many recommended parenting books during their early years, all of which had been very helpful to us. But we knew we were about to launch into a new dimension of parenting that we thought we might not quite be prepared for. That’s when I came a across a book entitled Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World: seven building blocks for developing capable young people, by Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen. In it, the authors highlighted the lost art of dialogue, and the skills of asking questions that lead to competency. The book is about engaging in dialogue and asking the right questions so that you and they would begin to hear themselves articulate their values and principles for decision making and problem solving, as well as their understanding of the connection between choices and consequences. In fact I learned that a large part of my job as a parent is to ask the questions that will allow them to hear themselves say out loud the things they need to hear. This way I have input, they have input, and their less wise peers are not yet part of the process.
I then learned that the authors had developed a video series for parents entitled Developing Capable People, in which the principles and discussions are shared among parents in small group settings. I immediately put a group together to review the material. These parents were as moved by the opportunity to develop a new approach to parenting as I was.
I began to incorporate these new skills into my own parenting. The results were immediate and amazing. I probably recognized it more than my kids did. As I learned the art of asking the skilled questions, and eliminating the destructive questions and the lectures with demeaning hooks attached, I began to see a change in me and my kids. I learned that they were already incorporating many of the values and principles my wife and I had been teaching them from an early age. They were making choices having given a lot of consideration to the outcomes and consequences. Rather than lecturing and scolding them, I began to hear them out and add a few thoughts for them to consider as they went through the process. I wasn’t perfect at this, and they may still tell you I was a lecturer, but the reality is that what I learned not to do they never experienced, and we are all better for it.
This is a far cry from how I was raised. My father was far more interested in compliance and the distribution of consequences than in understanding my thought processes, skills or reasoning ability. Now, this was not all bad. He certainly kept me on the strait and narrow. However, I do believe both of us would have benefited by a different approach. With greater confidence in my own abilities I could have avoided many of the lessons that had to be learned in the school of hard knocks.
I had been an executive coach for some time prior to reading this book and knew that Developing Capable People is the work of management and leadership, and this art of dialogue and questioning is a skill that leaders must master in order to be exceptional. However, I had never heard it discussed in all the management training I had attended, and I had participated in a boat load; nor had I read about this concept in any of the management or leadership books I had read, and I have a library of hundreds. I even met Stephen Glenn in the Dallas airport and we began to discuss the applications of this material for management development and training. He said he had been approached by one recognizable business about this, but I never heard anything from it. Either the material was never developed or it never generated any excitement.
However, I did have the privilege of being around some of the best leaders in some of the most successful Fortune 500 companies and observe these skills being practiced. I took notes and did what most Executive Coaches and Trainers do. I began to develop my own training program based on the concepts in this material. I began to incorporate it into my coaching and training with leaders. And when they began to incorporate the art of asking the intentional question with a genuine interest in learning about the competencies of those they are developing, they changed. Their confidence in their people increased. Additionally, the confidence of their direct reports increased as they heard themselves articulate their various approaches to problem solving and decision making, and received reinforcement from their leadership.
The question for you today: Are you asking questions of those you lead so that they are articulating out loud the things they need to hear themselves say?