I don’t think any leader would say they follow ready, fire, aim. And yet, in reality, every leader does this. Let me explain. When we are faced with someone asking for help, our tendency is to want to help them. This involves listening to the problem and then providing advice. So how is this, ready, fire, aim? We are so keen to help and share what we know, we don’t fully understand the problem. And then our chances of hitting the target are low.
The ‘Advice Monster’
Michael Bungay Stanier, in his excellent book ‘The Advice Trap‘, describes our ‘Advice Monster’. It is our tendency to want to help and solve the problem by giving advice. Michael encourages leaders in this situation to stay curious, and resist the urge to give advice. We do this by asking questions. I remember Andy Grove, who was a prodigious questioner saying, ‘When you think you know the answer, ask one more question’.
What questions can you ask? Here are a few suggestions:
- What haven’t you told me that I should know?
- What else?
- What is a good outcome for you?
- How can I help?
There are many others that will come up in the context of the conversation.
How to practice
When we teach leaders how to coach, we ask them to practice by only asking questions for the first 10 minutes of the conversation. For many, this feels like an eternity given their tendency to give advice, and their desire to ready, fire, aim. Give this practice a try and see how you do. Don’t worry about not having the right questions. Simply focus, be present and the questions will come. I suspect your questions will uncover some important insights, and who knows, they might solve their own problem.