Stop Telling, Start Asking

July 7th, 2014

So-Young Kang: Stop Telling, Start Asking from Awaken Group

By: So-Young Kang, Catalyst & CEO, Awaken Group
(from the June 2014 newsletter)

Leaders often feel that their role is to give directions and ‘tell’ people what they need to do. I have coached a number of CEO’s who would role play conversations with me where they essentially are telling their subordinate what their expectations are, where they Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.24.30 PMhave fallen short or explaining why this is important. While there is value in setting expectations and sharing your perspectives and views, there is a time for ‘telling’ and a time for ‘asking.

Here are some indications that you may want to try a different technique. You feel you have explained yourself for the nth time. You don’t seem to be getting through. The behaviour continues. You are both frustrated.

asking questions When you are in this situation, you may want to try the power of asking questions. But before you ask the questions, your mindset and beliefs on how you approach the situation are most critical. Here are some ways to get yourself into a mindset that will foster communication.

  • Start from a place of curiosity to understand why the miscommunication could be taking place. Where is he/she coming from? What assumptions is the other person making? It may seem obvious to you, but why isn’t it obvious to the other person?
  • Assume the best in the other person. If the person was an idiot, then you would likely not have hired the person. So if you assume that the person wants to do a good job and agree with my belief that people don’t wake up in the morning wanting to do a bad job, then be open to understanding where the person is coming from.

This thinking is consistent with principles of appreciative inquiry which believes that if you focus on the positive intentions and motivations, you are more likely to produce positive outcomes. This can include better business outcomes, stronger relationships, more effective communications and more creative solutions.

Perspectives-GlassesHere are some questions to help you have more powerful 2-way communications:

  • Here are some things I observed. Can you help me understand where you were coming from?
  • When we last spoke, I walked away with this understanding.What was your understanding? How did you interpret what was most important?
  • What is important to you in this context? How can we align our interests towards a successful outcome?

There are many more powerful questions we can use. Please share your powerful questions with the broader community.



World Economic Forum: Leadership in the 21st Century

June 5th, 2014

By: So-Young Kang, Catalyst & CEO, Awaken Group
(from the May 2014 newsletter)

My understanding of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is that it is a network of leaders across various disciplines in business, government, education and society. It’s about coming together to have a dialogue about the major issues facing the world today, so that we can form the connections and networks to be able to address them. WEF is not a decision-making forum, but rather, a forum to bring people together. It was quite a privilege wef stage(resized)and an honor to be part of it this year, which I attended due to being nominated to be a Young Global Leader – one of 200 or so leaders in the world across different disciplines who are actually making a difference or trying to make a difference in the world. We were invited to WEF in East Asia to talk about what our contributions could be and what issues we want to solve.

I think that especially in East Asia, we are so used to talking about results, outcomes, and performance. We are very fixated on that, in some ways, at the expense of all other things. What was pleasantly surprising to me was to hear some world leaders, such as President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, talk about what it means to be ‘human’ and how “being human is going to be at the core of leadership in the 21st century.”

This is a very different kind of thinking—it’s much more than a limited poverty mindset or a competitive mindset of “mine vs. yours”—it is actually about, “How can we create a bigger ‘we’ and a bigger world?” I am quite excited about the opportunities as we shift mindsets beyond functional things, into more meaningful and purpose-driven things.

wef_sy(resized)I think that one of the biggest crises facing our region today is actually the loss of soul and identity, which is at the root of many of the problems we face. So I feel that we need a new approach and a new way of actually re-instilling purpose and values, which is at the heart of being human and of what it means to transform. As we start to address those core root issues around purpose and identity, we will have the opportunity to start transforming the way people and leaders think, the way they lead their companies, and how they operate their companies, societies, and nations. That is what I am most passionate about and how I see the linkage of what it means to be human, to transformation.

wef with friends_syThis all matters because I think that we all want to live in a more joyful and beautiful world. Many of us are evolving along Maslow’s hierarchy, in terms of the functional needs being met, and we are seeking self-actualization or a higher level of need, which is around finding meaning and purpose. For example, many in Gen Y care less about pay and work-life balance. They are looking for meaningful work that will transform the world to make it a better place. Many of us are looking for how we can make that difference.

For me, it’s really about how we can make a difference in individual leaders, organizations, nations, governments, and companies, and this is what drives me at the end of the day. I see a shift happening so I am quite excited about that because that is meaningful. At the core, I believe all of us are actually seeking meaning and purpose, and that is what transformation starts with.



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