It happens all the time: We ask a question because it’s the routine thing to do, not because we really want an answer — much less a transparent answer.
When we ask someone how it’s going, we usually don’t want to hear the gory details about their running nose or how their kid is in trouble at school again. But one of the marks of great leadership, I believe, is to ask for information with the expectation that you will take action on it if you can. This is how leaders serve the people around them. And you don’t have to be at the top of the leadership food chain to make this happen.
Let me give you an example. A friend and his wife were checking out at the grocery store the other day when the guy bagging the groceries asked a question: “Did you find everything you needed?”
My friend and his wife looked at each other knowingly.
“Ground flaxseed meal,” they said, almost in unison. “We looked on several aisles. Then we were told you usually have it, but you are out.”
Normally, this type of honest response gets a blank stare or, at most, a sympathetic, “Sorry to hear that.” But at the end of the day, you still leave with no ground flaxseed meal.
Not this time. First, the bagger apologized for being out of stock. But then he suggested they use a coffee grinder to grind their own. At the very least, they would leave with some helpful information.
“Never thought of that,” said the couple. “We might give that a try.”
“Let me get you a bag to grind,” the bagger said. “It’s on us. No charge.”
And off he went. If he couldn’t get them exactly what they wanted, he would give them what they needed to get what they wanted.
He returned in less than two minutes. “I found a bag already ground,” he said. “Here you go. Again, it’s on us.” How do you think the couple felt as they left the store? Their lives would have been fine without the ground flaxseed meal, but they got something far more valuable – that feeling that comes when someone treats you like you really matter.
No matter where you are in your organization, you can encourage transparency that builds trust by asking open-ended questions – of your customers, employees, peers, supervisors – and then actually taking their answers and serving their needs. That’s leadership.
So who will you serve today?