Monday, December 23, 2013

Socrates Was Right

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Recently I wrote about Susie the salesperson who made a mistake on an estimate. As her boss plans his approach to deliver some "constructive" criticism how will he create a good outcome? What is his definition of a good outcome? A good outcome is one where Susie truly participates in figuring out what she did wrong and how to correct it.

Criticism is too often a big spiky stick that management swings around willy nilly. (Look it up - it's a real word). Put down the stick and conjur up Socrates. Resist the easy road of criticism and lead Susie to a solution by asking questions.

An effective method of teaching - and managing - is the Socratic Method. The Harvard Business School calls it the Case Study Method. Instead of being lectured to, the student or employee gains the desired knowledge not by simply absorbing facts and theories, but also by exercising the skills of leadership and teamwork in the face of real problems. They analyze and synthesize data and points of view and they define and prioritize goals.

Active participation and questioning unearths that “ah ha!” moment where the employee sees the light on her own.

I encourage you to be a Socratic manager. You may not get it right at first and it takes longer. And it also leads to permanent learning for your employees.

As Susie’s boss you might ask any of the following without judgment:
What client assumptions did you begin with?
How did you know those were accurate?
What did you do to confirm or challenge your assumptions?
What can you differently next time to test your assumptions?
What does the client want?
What was the outcome you anticipated before the meeting began?
Who can you partner with to help uncover your weak areas?

Ask more and tell less.

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