As leaders, we’ve been misled! Though not intentionally. Essentially our education system has prepared us to be an employee, not a leader. Here’s how this has happened.

We all studied hard to be where we are today.

Most of us undertook some form of training where we learnt how to find solutions to problems, how to provide the answers within a specific area of study.

We then entered the workforce and found ourselves providing the answers we learned to questions relevant to our roles.

Over years of work we continued this approach, moving into management roles where we not only continued to provide solutions, but are in most cases expected to provide solutions. I remember being faced with the words – don’t bring me problems, bring me answers.

This is the issue:

At some point in our progression to higher levels, we need to learn when we should stop providing answers and start focusing on the questions instead.

Business improvement is focused on the idea of ‘empowerment’ or ‘workforce collaboration’. This only becomes reality when a leader recognises that many, if not most, solutions should be provided upward, and the role of the leader is to be the vehicle or conduit through which workers are able to generate and implement solutions.

The thinking shift for business leaders and line managers today takes place when they become more adept at two opposing skill sets.

The primary skill set is built around the unconsciously ‘conditioned’ approach to improvement by ‘Giving Answers’.

The mental focus of this skill set is on:

  1. The content or subject matter specifically – “I want to know what the solution is”.
  2. The technical elements of organisational change – “What’s the plan, how can the plan be improved, what will it cost” etc.

The shift an effective leader must make is towards the second skill set where we ‘Elicit Answers to Problems from Others’.

Under these conditions the mental focus of the leader shifts to:

  1. The process that was taken to generate solutions [answers] – “How do we know this solution treats the real causes of the problem, how do we know there isn’t a better way to do this” etc.
  2. The emotional elements of organisational change – “How do we know people will be on board with this change, how do we know it will stick over time, how are you going to monitor the change” etc.

A Change is Required

Leaders, whether they be line managers, supervisors or business improvement professionals, must, in the modern age, lead other people to new ways of thinking. This role does not come without its challenges.

The change in thinking required to undertake these new roles and the discipline to engage in these new behaviours where it is appropriate means we must be adaptable to situations and be able to shift smoothly from one style of leadership to the other according to circumstances.

Sometimes you give answers; upwards usually. Sometimes you ask questions about answers given to you; from those below you in the organisation structure.

The art of this second key skill set lies in your ability to ask good questions!

Thanks for reading,


100,000+ students around the world have enjoyed the fruits of professional development with George Lee Sye. Now his training content is accessible through his professional skills development platform located at For more information about the site for individuals visit, and as a full business solution visit
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