By Bryan Orr

You sit down at the the boardroom table surrounded by your colleagues. At the head of the table sits the person you are all trying to impress, the person who decides on your raises and promotions. To your left sits the company know-it-all; he will answer every question and share his opinions freely. To your right is the quintessential suck up; he waits until the person at the head of the table speaks and then he chimes in with hearty approval. Across from you is the engineer; she actually knows what’s going on, but she also knows that the truth isn’t popular in these types of meetings so she keeps her mouth clamped firmly shut.

This is a typical corporate environment that millions of workers find themselves in every day. Most of us have worked in a situation like this at one time or another. There is a challenge, now YOU are the owner and there is nobody to impress but the customer. Furthermore you may often find yourself as the one at the head of the table, all eyes fixed on you, just looking for a way to gain your attention and trust.

Looking like the smartest person in the room is no longer the goal, you need to actually BE the person who moves things forward in your business and the tools you learned to cope as an employee no longer apply when it’s all on you.

This is where you need to make a choice; what is more important? Looking smart? Appearing to have the answers? Needing to be right? Or actually making progress, and progress when you have people working for you is about getting them to take action.

So the question is, how do you get people in your organization to take positive action and make progress? Ask strategic questions.

Don’t Have the Answers, Even When You Do

When you don’t have the answers it will be up to them to have the answers. When they have the answers, they will be much more likely to execute on the solutions they produce. It’s shockingly hard to keep quiet when you are used to having the solutions to every problem on the tip of your tongue but if you make a challenge of it you will find it gets easier. Instead of saying “Let’s use a cloud based solution to reduce the load on our servers and IT staff” instead say “What’s a solution that could reduce the load on our servers and IT staff?” If you already know who will give the answer you are looking for you can address the question at that person, maybe the engineer minded person who has learned to keep their mouth shut.

Make Your Team Members the Heroes

Once you learn how to pull solutions from your team, the next step is to get them motivated to take action. This comes from giving them ownership over the solution they created. If your employees are used to coming up with ideas and then getting no credit for it,  it can be tough to get them to pick up the ball and run with it. So give them a taste of what being a hero will look like even before it happens, “That is a great idea, Pam. If you can pull that off you would make a big difference in the hiring process and that will be very impactful for the organization and your career.”

Hold Them Accountable to Their Words, Not Yours

Once you get a solution from your team (the one you were likely intending on all along) and you have established that they have ownership of the solution, you want then to put legs to what their commitment is with clear objectives and times. Ask them questions and continue to ask questions until they give you a clear ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘when’. “When can you have that done?, What will that look like specifically? Who would you like to have on the team to accomplish this? What could go wrong to prevent you from hitting that deadline? Who would you need support from to keep that from going wrong? If you get behind schedule who will you inform? When?”

People like to hedge their bets when questioned, so when you get a non answer just re-ask the exact same question until you get an answer. Once you get an answer, hold them to their commitment, including any reporting requirements. If they do not keep their agreement you simply repeat their words to them, not adding in any of your own. More often than not, they will own the responsibility with less hostility because they are hearing their own words and commitments that were made.  

The desire to be the smartest person in the room can be a strong emotion for many leaders, the trick is to realizing that often being smart means looking like you aren’t. ON PURPOSE.