At ghSMART, we advise board members and CEOs of large companies on their most important leadership issues. One of the most important skills we discuss is making sure they are consulting on the right questions.
I think of a “right” question as one that matters – a question that will cut to the heart of an issue, produce an answer on which the leader can act and provide the highest value to the leader in terms of results.
But the “right” question then becomes, “What are the wrong questions?”
There are three categories of “wrong” questions that I’ve heard time and time again over the years. Merely asking these questions can lead you down the wrong path when you’re seeking to achieve your career’s full potential.
1 If you have to ask an ethical question, just don’t do the thing you were considering.
The wisest, most successful leaders I have served or worked alongside all seem to lead according to this rule regarding ethical questions: “If you have to ask, then don’t.” In other words, if there is something you’re considering that’s in a moral gray area or might be misinterpreted as unethical, then just don’t do it. At ghSMART, we call this “having 110% integrity.” We do things that are not only 100% ethical, but we give an extra 10% safety margin to avoid things that could be misinterpreted.
2 If you have to question whether someone is underperforming in their job, they are.
There’s a common cycle of “facing reality” I often see my clients go through. They have a bold vision and a goal to achieve something great. And when they realize that they don’t have the team to make it happen, they start to fantasize and think, “I wonder if Fred or Amy is going to rise to the occasion and display strengths we’ve not yet seen to achieve these results.” Great leaders know who they can count on. They don’t expect a subordinate to suddenly start performing well in a role that does not appear to fit their talents and interests.
3 If you wonder whether you can trust your boss, you can’t.
There is a saying: “People don’t quit companies; they quit bad bosses.” So if you find yourself wondering whether you can trust your boss or not, you likely can’t. Instead, go find a boss you can trust. Find a boss who will hold your interests in high regard and care about your career goals as much as you do, giving you coaching and feedback to help accelerate your learning. These bosses will have your back during bonus time. Rarely do you see great leaders who wonder about the trustworthiness of their boss staying at that particular job very long.
Geoff Smart is chairman and founder of ghSMART. Geoff is co-author, with his colleague Randy Street, of the New York Times bestselling book, Who: A Method for Hiring, and the author of the No. 1 Wall Street Journal best-seller, Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government. Geoff co-created the Topgrading brand of talent management. He is the Founder of two 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations. SMARTKids Leadership Program™ provides 10 years of leadership tutoring and the Leaders Initiative™ seeks to deploy society’s greatest leaders into government. Geoff earned a BA in Economics with honors from Northwestern University, an MA, and a PhD in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.