I have often said adults are like children — just with bigger allowances, and more freedoms. We can be just as irresponsible, just as excited, just as confused, just as inquisitive as a 6-year-old. And, like a parent, one of the toughest jobs a leader can have is the barrage of questions coming their way — questions that can often feel like a doubting of their authority, or a questioning of their wisdom. It reminds me of parenting, when facing some of life’s more challenging and existential questions from our children. You know, the easy ones, like how are babies made? Where do I come from? Hopefully your team aren’t asking those kind of questions, but when they ask ‘why’ questions it may be just as uncomfortable; why are we following this protocol? Why did you make that decision? Why are we not doing this idea?
What can feel like a challenge or defiance in a poorly worded question may well be just a simple curiosity, and a shallow one at that. If we can just keep our interpretations, fears and judgments in check, we may find a powerful lesson from raising kids: simply answer the question that was asked.
Keep the answer simple in your first response. If a member of your team asks a question about protocol, avoid the temptation to justify your decision and actions; instead, simply answer the question with the facts. That might well be all they’re looking for. And if it wasn’t, they’ll ask a second, hopefully better-phrased question. The objective here isn’t to avoid answering their question, it’s to not answer beyond the level of their curiosity. Be open and defense-free with your information for those who are seeking it, and you may find that they aren’t challenging you at all — they were just asking a simple question.
“Mommy, where do babies come from?” They come from mommy and daddy, sweetie. “Oh. Okay. What’s for lunch?”
If your child or colleague asks follow-up questions, keep answering. Just remember Occam’s Razor: in problem solving, the simplest solution tends to be the right one. Let them lead the conversation.