A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Taking Stock

Yesterday I spent the day driving to and from a small town in Minnesota called, Brownsville. My daughter’s close friend had lost her father from an unexpected heart attack. We went to Brownsville to celebrate the all too short 52 years of his life.

I think the entire town showed up for the memorial service. People were asked to come early to pay their respects. On tables in the community room, next to the family who greeted us, were pieces of his life lovingly arranged. Personal items: his fishing rod and hat, his glasses, and albums full of the articles he had published in the course of owning and working as a newspaper columnist. Many people, like myself, leafed through his life’s work organized in three ring books. I stopped and took some time to read.

It’s hard to document the work people do on a daily basis, even though we spend so much our time at work. But driving home from Brownsville I found myself thinking about how I felt connected to this man’s life by seeing the volumes of work he had published over the years. So, on the drive home I decided to make some sort of archive of my own professional life. I don’t know what that will look like, but a know it’s a value of mine and one that I shared with this amazing man whose life ended far too soon.

Email me if you have experienced any extraordinary ways that families have honored the professional life of their loved ones. And remember “life is short… but it is also wide.”

Rachel Fine
Creative Director, Blue Grotto Inc.

Recommended reading: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Q & A

Whether you’re the boss or the direct report, interrogation is never easy. Sometimes you won’t like the answers to your questions and sometimes you’re not asking the right questions. In the October 2006 Harvard Management Update, Judith Ross says the later may be the real problem. In her article Real Leaders Ask, Ross outlines suggestions on how to ask effective, and more importantly, empowering questions.

By asking for an employee’s input, managers convey that they value a member of their team’s ideas and, in turn, the employee becomes more confident and competent. Ross adds that empowering questions build more than just confidence, empowering questions help to develop critical problem solving skills.

Ross urges managers to model effective questioning, recognizing when you may be asking questions that demand a negative result, like leading questions (the ones you know the answer to or hope to influence), and striving instead for questions that create value. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page when it comes to problem solving. Everyone may not even yet agree on the problem. Effective questions by a leader can help to move your team to alignment on an issue and more quickly to a solution.

I appreciated two of her examples of how empowering questions create value: that they encourage breakthrough thinking, and that they create ownership of solutions. Two fundamentals most organizations find themselves continually in pursuit of.

My favorite line in her article was a quote of Michael Marquardt, professor of human resources and international affairs at George Washington University, who asked each of his direct reports: “What one idea and/or strategy that we are not currently implementing do you believe would best contribute to the success of our company?” Can you imagine the responses?

Empowering questions are yet another tool in the arsenal of internal communications. Email me with examples of other ways you have found to communicate more effectively with people in your organization.

P.S. I also liked Ross’ examples of poorly-worded questions like “Why are you behind schedule?” and “Is this a good time to talk?” Both made me shudder.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.