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Executive Corner – From Quitting to Crying in 6 Months

Michael Clegg | 10/06/2022

I was listening to a podcast, and the host told a story about the best boss he ever had on a particular episode. When he said, “I went from quitting to crying in 6 months,” it caught my attention.

Below is an excerpt from that show.

“I was so frustrated with my job and was bringing it home to my family. I was always in a bad mood and cranky. One day, I confided in my wife and told her I thought I would quit my job, and she asked me why. I told her that no matter what I did, my boss didn’t think my work was good enough. He is always questioning why I’m doing what I’m doing and making me consider other ways. My wife says, “well, are you doing what he said and considering other ways?” I told her I have, and yes, some other ways work better. Then she says, “well then, it sounds like he’s helping you get better.” Once I took a step back and analyzed what my boss was doing, it helped me change my perspective. He made me question everything I was doing to help develop new skills. I was looking for his answers, not his help. I immediately realized that if I expected him to give me the answers, I would call that micromanagement. I do want development. I didn’t realize that he was challenging me for growth.”

This story immediately made me think of some great advice I had from one of the best bosses that I’ve had. He said, “Clegg, ask questions instead of providing answers.” He believed that a leader’s job was to challenge their teams to think for themselves critically. We can help them find the answers but helping them develop a process for thinking is most important. When working with someone who challenges you, throw away your pride. Take a step back and ask yourself, are there other ways to get my job done? Is someone helping show me the path to do that?

John Hagel III wrote an article in Harvard Business Review and said, “The leaders I talk to tend to be nervous about this (challenging their teams with questions) approach: Won’t it look like they don’t know what they’re doing? On the contrary, research has shown that expressing vulnerability and asking for help is a strong signal to others that you are trusting and are more likely to be trusted in return. If you can learn to ask questions well, it can help you connect with others. Thinking together can lead you to solve intractable problems and spark innovative thinking.”

Good leaders ask good questions. Many leaders assume that others expect them to have all the answers. They feel the need to make bold assertions that provide them confidence in their competence. Asking questions and soliciting other people’s feedback or opinions helps develop trust, the keystone of being a great leader. 

The research is overwhelming that when a leader shows vulnerability and asks for help, it creates a strong feeling that you are trusting which earns you their trust in return. Asking for help or saying “I don’t know” is a sign of strength. Not weakness. The paradigm is usually flipped for most leaders. I was talking with a client telling me he was afraid to be vulnerable or say “I don’t know” because he didn’t want his boss to know about his lack of knowledge. That is precisely the wrong thought process. Most leaders don’t want someone that “knows it all” or has a “fixed mindset.” Great leaders want someone with a growth mindset who is not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” When in doubt, use statements like “tell me more” and “help me understand.” 

After the podcast host got great advice from his wife, he said he started focusing on improving himself. He was asking questions of his leader to leverage his time and experience, which is a great way to gain a growth mindset. Six months after the podcast host began working in this manner, his boss announced his retirement. He said, “I went from quitting to crying in six months.”

Be vulnerable. It develops trust. It is NOT a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and a growth mindset.

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