“Management is about answers.   Leadership is about questions”.


There have been many acres of newsprint dedicated to defining the difference between management and leadership and there is no simple answer.  If we assume that the purpose of leadership is to move toward some common aim, then clearly there will be a need to take decisive actions and provide a level of clarity about the options available.   However – a good leader should be able to do a lot more than that.  


The questions she asks should look at different aspects:


The challenge itself

  • what is the purpose of what we are doing – do we really understand it
  • what are the assumptions we are making?  if we reframe the problem could we see it differently

The team

  • How are we best using our resources – are we enabling people to fulfil their full potential
  • How could we as a team operate more effectively

The leader

  • How do I add the most value here?
  • What should I be doing or not be doing to enable the team to grow

These questions should be shared with the team, to ensure they are part of the solution – but also to make them consider some of the assumptions they are making within their own areas of the overall activity.   Often, asking the right questions can go a long way toward defining an answer, by getting different perspectives and testing them within the team or the other stakeholders.  


There is another benefit within an organisation – as it gets larger and more complex, it is increasingly difficult for senior leaders to get transparency through the organisation.  It can be helpful to ask the same set of questions at different levels in an organisation to assess how well the overall objectives are understood – and whether the reality of how the company is perceived on a day to day basis is recognised by managers who may be insulated by their hierarchy.


As an exercise, ask yourself –  if you reframed a current problem – would you see it differently?  Are you enabling people to fulfil their potential – or just focussed on short term results? What could you stop doing – to enable the team to grow?


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Calum Byers, August 2017  Calum is an executive coach with The Scala Group.  He has extensive experience of business transformation, and a background in the technology industry.