The Can’t-Stop-Answering-My-Own-Questions Cure And Other Home Remedies for Leaders

Person speaking with a group of others that are paying close attention

The Can’t-Stop-Answering-My-Own-Questions Cure And Other Home Remedies for Leaders

In recent years, much has been written about leadership and the importance of playing to our strengths. While this is certainly essential, the reality is that other people more often pay attention to our bad habits than they do to our good deeds. In fact, studies have shown that when asked to recall an important event, people remember four negative memories for every positive one. So, if you want to engage and inspire other people, don’t focus solely on your positive leadership behaviors. Pay attention to what you need to stop doing, as well.

If you’re thinking “easier said than done,” you’d be right. Despite experience, reflection, advice, and trying harder, we sometimes make the same mistakes over and over. Perhaps we should take our cues from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (the title character of a vintage children’s series by Betty McDonald), whose unconventional methods never failed to cure bad habits. Here’s what Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle might prescribe for some challenging leadership behaviors.

The Can’t-Stop-Answering-My-Own-Questions Cure

It’s a common problem: A leader asks a question, only to answer it before anyone else can speak. “So, what are your thoughts on the timeline for this project? Personally, I think we should shoot for March 31st.” And the team is thinking, “Well, why did you ask us if you already had the answer?” If this is a problem for you, there might be all kinds of reasons. Maybe you’re challenged with listening in general, or maybe you’re just thinking out loud. Or maybe you’re not thinking at all, which is exactly the point. It’s a habit, and unfortunately, it’s one that will train your team to hold back their best input.

The Cure: Speak your piece and hold your peace. Tell your team that you’re working on being a better listener. You could say, “You have my permission, and in fact I encourage you, to let me know when I’m falling back into an old habit. If that happens, what sign would you like to give me?” Stop there.

The Too-Busy-To-Meet-With-My-Team Tonic

When you’re a leader, it’s easy to become preoccupied with your own significant workload. At those times, however, you’re necessarily less available to your team. Of course, there will always be issues that you personally must attend to. But think about what it means to be a leader: Leaders lead people. Without your consistent involvement, people won’t have the guidance they need to meet their objectives – which ultimately is your objective.

The Tonic: Set an alarm and don’t hit snooze. With our smart phones as constant companions, it’s easy to set up reminders. People set alarms for all kinds of things – from when to take medication to reminders for mindfulness and meditation. So why not set a reminder for meeting with your team? There should be an app for that.

The If-I-Want-Something-Done-I’ll-Do-It-Myself Solution

A business owner named Sue had initiated a succession process at her company. Like many leaders, Sue struggled to relinquish responsibility to younger leaders. She’d always been reluctant to delegate, and often found herself re-doing others’ work. This tendency seemed to intensify as she began planning for succession. Sue wasn’t comforted to know that “letting go” is a common challenge. Understanding the psychological roots of her need for control didn’t help much either.

The Solution: Step back to move forward. Sue took a low-risk action to help shift her long-standing behavior. Every Tuesday she physically removed herself from the office and did not send or respond to any calls or emails. At first, “Suesdays” were uncomfortable for everyone. But over time, Sue learned more about the capabilities of her key people and saw that a step back wasn’t a setback. If you’re a DIY kind of leader, a structured approach might work for you, too. Even if you’re nowhere near retirement. Even if your name doesn’t rhyme with a day of the week.

As a leader, your team is watching you all the time. If you want to shape their behavior, first consider your own. You don’t need an old sea chest full of magical cures to start working on what you’d like to stop doing.