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How Socrates Can Make You A Better Leader

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Remember Socrates? Greek fella, lived a long time ago, had a drinking problem (specifically with hemlock)? He also invented this thing called the Socratic Method. (Although, for the record, he didn’t call it that; it was his fan club, much later.)

Anyway, the Socratic Method is, very basically, a technique of asking a series of questions—the answers to which lead, inevitably, to the conclusion the questioner was aiming for in the first place. [Note to philosophy and classics majors: Yes, I realize this is a gross oversimplification and that you desperately want to come back with a sentence that begins, “Well, actually….”]

It’s a great skill for leaders to master. Here’s why:

We resist that which is forced upon us. We defend that which we create.

We resist that which is forced upon us. We defend that which we create. @billstainton #Leadership Click To Tweet

What does that have to do with the Socratic Method? Well, when we, as leaders, give our teams not only the problem, but the solution as well, we’re leaving nothing for them to take ownership of. All that’s left is implementation. And when your team is simply implementing someone else’s ideas (e.g., yours), they’re not fully invested in those ideas. They’re not theirs. They have no skin in the game.

In essence, they’re implementing ideas that have been forced (no matter how benevolently) on them.

But what if your team believed that the ideas they’re implementing are actually theirs? What if they actually are theirs?

Do you think they’d be a little more invested, a little more engaged?

We resist that which is forced upon us. We defend that which we create.

So how do we, as a leader, get there?

Enter Socrates.

See, here’s the thing: leadership is not about having all the answers. It’s about asking the right questions.

#Leadership is not about having all the answers. It’s about asking the right questions. @billstainton Click To Tweet

And when you ask the right questions, you lead your team to figure out the answers on their own.

When you ask the right questions, you #lead your #team to figure out the answers on their own. @billstainton #leadership #teams Click To Tweet

Here’s my simple formula: Give them the What and the Where; let them surprise you with the How.

As a leader, it’s your job to define the vision, the goal. “Here’s What we want to accomplish. Here’s Where we want to go.”

After that, though, you should become Socrates. Start asking questions.

  • How can we get there?”
  • “How would it affect you personally?”
  • “How do you want to accomplish this goal?”
  • “How can I help you accomplish it?”

When you ask questions like this, you’re inviting your team to have skin in the game. You’re inviting them to create the solution.

We resist that which is forced upon us. We defend that which we create.

You can use your questions to guide your team, like Socrates. Or you can keep your questions open-ended, with no pre-conceived notion of the “correct” answer. That depends on the situation and your relationship with your team. The principle is the same: to allow your team to become co-creators of the solution.

Because we defend that which we create.

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About the Author:

For 15 years, Executive Producer Bill Stainton, CSP led his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 10 straight years of #1 ratings.Today Bill helps leaders achieve those kinds of results--in THEIR world and with THEIR teams.
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