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When I emphasized about the significance of using questions in lead strategic leadership, I received a call from a friend who was not convinced about the approach. His main concern was that a leader who avoids giving candid and firm answers runs the risk of being perceived as weak and indecisive. He also wondered whether such an approach would not be time consuming and run the risk of followers losing confidence in a leader who fails to get an answer for his or her own questions in the event that the followers fail to generate suitable responses.

I did agree that, like any other approach, leading using questions has its own weaknesses. I however had to highlight the benefits and drawbacks of a directive style where the leader has all the answers.  For example, in my article titled “Fallacy named permanent,” I outlined how the subject banks’ Chief Executive was vocal about the direction of the banks’ strategy. He, together with the Finance Director went as far as belittling any suggestions to the contrary, regardless of evidence from elsewhere indicating that their preferred approach was high risk. In fact, they also went ahead to disregard the input of external consultants by telling us that we had been engaged so that we can convince his management team to see sense in the CEO’s vision, not to bring other ideas. In other words, the CEO had all the answers and any other person had only two options namely “put up and shut up” or “ship out.”

In the case above, the CEO provided clear and decisive guidance to the team which can hasten decision making and implementation. This can also improve efficiency, provide a sense of stability and direction as well as increase certainty about a leader’s expectation towards team members. Lastly, if such a leader also takes responsibility for the decisions, a strong sense of accountability may develop within the organization.

The subject article concluded by noting that the company’s financial position deteriorated in the long term. This was primarily because the CEO’s approach largely discouraged the managers from making meaningful contribution to strategy development and implementation thereby stifling creativity and innovation. Such a team is also likely to become disoriented, demotivated and disengaged. They would therefore just flow along with little or no concern about the company’s long-term success. In the long term, such teams are also likely to become over reliant on the leaders’ direction thereby, overburdening him and subsequently bringing about leader burnout or fatigue. The over dependence may also slow down strategy development and implementation if all decisions are always referred to the leader. Lastly, team members may not get opportunities to develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills which further increases reliance on the leader.

In the previous article titled “Questions: The Key to Strategic Leadership,” I highlighted the benefits of using questions to lead while this article outlines some weaknesses in the approach as well as benefits and drawbacks of having all the answers. Taking into consideration all the issues, it is safe to conclude that a leader can use each of the approaches depending of the context. For example, a directive style with a leader making all decisions is suitable in a crisis situation, where a leader is dealing with unskilled people or in a high-volume production environment with standardized processes and quality standards. On the other hand, a consultative approach where a leader uses questions applies best in situations where team members are highly skilled and/or experienced, while solving complex problems or where processes and standards are either non-existent or flexible.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  

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