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At ghSMART, we advise board members and CEOs of large companies on their most important leadership issues.
One of the skills we train our consultants on is making sure we are consulting on the right questions.

I think of a “right” question as one that matters, by cutting to the heart of an issue, one that will produce an answer that is within the power of the leader to act on, and one that–when answered–is likely to deliver the highest value to the leader in achieving results.

So what are the wrong questions?

There are three wrong questions I’ve heard over the years. The mere action of asking these questions lead you down the wrong path to achieving your full potential in your career. These wrong questions fall into three buckets:

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 that makes you feel that it is in the gray area, or that taking an action might even be misinterpreted as unethical, then just don’t do it. Never have I seen a leader regret having held back from taking an action with which he or she had an ethical question. At ghSMART we call this having 110% integrity. This means we do things that are not only 100% ethical, but we even give an extra 10% safety margin and we don’t do things that could be misinterpreted as unethical. It’s a great way to live and work. “How unethical would it be if…”is a question no leader should ever ask.

2. If you have to question whether someone is underperforming in their job, they are.

There is a cycle of “facing reality” that clients sometimes go through. They have a bold vision. 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 have not yet seen, or suddenly show a burst of energy we have not seen, to achieve these results.” Subordinates typically follow a very predictable pattern of performance. Great leaders know who they can count on to do what. So you rarely see great leaders asking themselves, “I wonder if my subordinate is going to start suddenly 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 that 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. Go find a boss whom you can trust, who will hold your interests in high regard. Who will care about your career goals nearly as much as you do. Who will be on the lookout for opportunities to give you coaching and feedback and help accelerate your learning. Who will have your back during bonus time. Rarely you see great leaders asking themselves, “I wonder if I can trust my boss” and stay in that 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.

Origianally posted at Dr. Geoff Smart

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