“Has anyone ever told you that you ask a lot of questions?”
That was from a colleague of mine in an email to me.
I remember my early days at my first professional job here, I would refrain from asking any questions that I thought might be “stupid”. Well, not that I really believed that there were stupid questions, but at the root of that feeling of insecurity was a desire to please. I didn’t want others to perceive me as ignorant and inexperienced. I craved acceptance.
Yeah, everyone struggles with one form of insecurity or the other, but immigrants in particular probably have a higher dose of that ‘ailment’ for different reasons.
Then one day, a team manager whose project I was delivering called me aside and said, “Dapo, this is Canada. I noticed that you sometimes feel uncomfortable speaking up. Don’t worry about it. Just say whatever you want to say. Ask any question. Provide your suggestions. Speak out. As long as you are respectful and continue to demonstrate a great attitude which you already have, you’ll be fine. If anyone has an issue with what you say, they’ll tell you. And when they provide the feedback, don’t take it personally. It’s going to be more about your idea than you.”
I’ll call the manager’s name Ken. Ken changed my life. Literally.
It’s been about nine years here, and I now get the drift so much so, I probably ask too many questions — both meaningful and otherwise. I simply ask. Recently, a project resource, even said “I am disappointed. I thought you were going to ask all sorts of questions as you usually do. I was ready for you, but you didn’t ask.” It’s now a fun mental drill.
When I also need to meet senior leaders to discuss projects, I even role-play with others. I EXPECT them to ask questions, so, as a team, we plan ahead by thinking up questions and having answers ready. Great leaders ask great questions.
Great questions help to expand our thinking, surface assumptions, uncover gaps, solidify our understanding and lead us into a preferred future.
According to Fran Peavey “Questioning breaks open the stagnant, hardened shells of the present, opening up options to be explored” and this is a fact that cannot be ignored.
Asking great questions is a strong leadership skill that I continue to hone.
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Written by Dapo Bankole.
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