4 Questions That Help You Earn Respect, Build Trust, and Solve Complex Problems
“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” —Confucius
As a leader, your instinct is to feel like you need to know everything in order to be effective. The research says otherwise. In this peer-reviewed study, researchers found that when we admit we’re uncertain, it actually makes others perceive us as more trustworthy.
Owning up to our shortcomings not only makes us more trustworthy but also earns us respect, strengthens our team, and creates a culture of transparency and accountability.
The idea that leaders, whether you are a CEO, vice president, or middle manager, should have all the answers is damaging—both to you as an individual and to your organization. Pretending you have it all figured out can affect your trustworthiness. It can also cause you to miss out on opportunities to collaborate with your peers, which may be exactly what you need to achieve your next breakthrough.
Collaboration Leads to Innovation
“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” — Kenyan proverb.
Getting comfortable with the concept of learning from others is crucial to your professional potential as well as to your team’s success. Collaborating with our peers helps us uncover our blind spots, get out of our echo chambers, and combine our individual strengths to create more successful outcomes.
Success isn’t about agreeing on the same answer, it’s about getting to the right answer—the one that leads to the best outcome. Our colleagues may not have the perfect solution, but they may share something that creates a “light-bulb moment” that leads to the perfect solution.
4 Questions to Ask your Colleagues When You’re Uncertain
If you aren’t sure about how to initiate conversations that invite collaboration and constructive feedback, these four questions can get you started. They’ll also inspire your colleagues to share their best ideas and help you earn their trust and respect.
1) “How would you approach this?”
We all have different strengths, backgrounds, and experiences. Maybe you excel at strategic thinking, and someone you manage excels at relationship-building. By asking your colleagues how they would approach a problem, you create a safe space for others to offer their suggestions and open yourself up to new solutions and approaches.
2) “Am I thinking about this correctly?”
In the manager-employee relationship, it’s easy to perpetuate the idea of “The boss is always right.” We know this isn’t the case. When you ask others, “Am I thinking about this correctly?” you introduce the concept that you might be wrong. This allows space for vulnerability and helps your colleagues feel more comfortable offering a contrary perspective.
3) “What are my blind spots?”
Our blind spots are often the root of our problems, but we’ll never know unless we ask. It’s easy to get stuck in your own echo chamber, especially if you’re the head of a department or functional area. Without peer support, we get stuck thinking about a problem from a narrow point of view. We unknowingly fail to consider the situation from the sales, marketing, or product team’s perspective. Asking your peers to examine things from a different perspective allows you to approach your problem from new angles, avoid missteps, and discover alternative solutions.
4) “Have you encountered this in the past?”
Your colleagues may not have the same expertise as you, but they may have encountered a similar problem in the past. Whether the outcome was successful or not, you can learn just as much from someone else’s failure as you can from their success. Learning from their lived experience can help you to problem-solve the issues you’re currently facing and anticipate obstacles in the future.
Saying “I Don’t Know” Makes You a Stronger Leader
“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity, and courage.” —Fuchan Yuan
When you pretend to have all the answers, you limit your growth and potential. When you invite collaboration and feedback that challenges your mindset and broadens your perspective, your potential becomes limitless. Creating opportunities to learn from others can be the difference between your failure and your success.
Leaders who are willing to admit uncertainty earn respect, build trust, and inspire their team to find solutions.
It’s Time to Try a Different Approach
You may find it uncomfortable to admit you don’t know the answers in front of your colleagues. Professional peer-group settings—with colleagues from other non-competitive companies—are a safe space, where it’s OK to admit you’re “stuck.”
The Ed-Tech Leadership Collective’s Peer Group model brings together experts in the K-12 ed-tech industry from non-competitive companies in a supportive, unbiased environment. The Collective’s peer groups are structured, facilitated, and rigorous, and are committed to your success and keeping you accountable.
Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how to promote growth and accountability in your organization through The Ed-Tech Leadership Collective’s peer groups and executive coaching.
Collin Earnst is founder and managing partner of the Ed-tech Leadership Collective, an organization focused on helping high-potential employees achieve the professional breakthroughs necessary for businesses to succeed. The Collective provides executive coaching as well as professional peer groups designed specifically for high-potential ed-tech employees at key points in their career.