Most executives are only truly in their comfort zone when they know the answer. Many even insist it is their job to know the answer. It didn’t seem to matter whether I worked for them, worked with them or had them work for me, having to know the answer seemed to be a common theme.
Almost by accident, I came to believe that questions were actually the answer. Throughout my career I often was headhunted into industries I knew nothing about. Obviously that didn’t happen against my will, but it did mean that I had to approach business challenges from a different perspective because I had no industry-specific knowledge to fall back on.
I had to ask questions and I had to trust people. I found on the whole, that people responded much better to being trusted, and to being asked to give advice, than they did to being told what to do.
Looking back it was also interesting to notice that in the companies with poor management, answers were subjective, based on opinions, rather than on facts that could be verified.
When it came to setting goals for the year, I remember being shocked when my boss told me he only committed to achieve goals where he absolutely knew how he was going to do it. I pointed out that I didn’t know how to achieve any of mine. I’d just accepted the need to improve and I’d accepted the challenge to find a way to achieve the performance required. Of course, when you don’t know how, you have to ask questions.