vendredi 15 décembre 2006

answers for special situations

a look at special situations from a different
perspective. How about those times when you’re asked a
question and it’s your answer that’s a problem? In this chap-
ter we’ll look at a few of these situations.
The more you practice asking questions, welcoming
questions, and answering the questions that are asked of you,
the easier all this questioning business becomes. But there’s
always the question that throws you off your game, the ques-
tion you don’t know how to answer, or the question you just
don’t want to answer. What happens then? Reading this
chapter will give you some ideas, though not all the ideas—just
enough to help you to your own solutions.
During an interview on the Today show, Sir Ian McKellen was
asked about the lessons he learned from doing years of Shakespeare.
He replied simply, “Never underestimate the script.” That’s a good
lesson for leaders, too. Thinking about how you’d deal with the sit-
Questions are never indis-
creet. Answers sometimes are.
—Oscar Wilde, Irish writer
uations described in this chapter and how scripting an answer could
work for you (even if your script doesn’t quite reach the level of
Shakespeare) will boost your confidence as a leader who can answer
just about any question.

67. What’s happening?
The response to this question is less about completeness than it is
about frequency. In the midst of a crisis, leaders can have an unimag-
inable list of people competing for their time and attention. It
appears that the people on their teams often go to the bottom of the
list. I think this is a mistake. Your people will be patient and under-
standing because you have, of course, been straight with them before
this situation arose, but they need something to be patient and
understanding about.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should wait until you’ve
gotten everything figured out or have a complete picture before
talking to your team. Frequent communication in settings where
they can physically see you is best. Even when there is nothing new
to say, visibility always works in your favor.
Take a deep breath before you talk. Calm yourself. Make good
eye contact. Let your feelings show appropriately. Finish by promis-
ing an update and KEEP YOUR PROMISE.
68. What’s going to happen next?
If you ignore the advice from the last question, you probably won’t
have to face this question. Not what I’d recommend, however.
When people ask What is coming next?, it is good news. This ques-
tion means they can see a little beyond the immediate, and it is usu-
ally an indication that you’ve been doing a good job of answering
the What’s happening? question.
At any given time during a crisis, you may or may not have an
answer to this question. That’s okay. Just continue to tell what you
know and what you can tell when you can tell it. Make the time of
your next update common public knowledge and keep it, even if you
have nothing new to add. Be visible. When you see some future pos-
sibilities that you can share, do so. Label them as speculation or
good bets or whatever term actually describes their probability. If
they become more probable, announce that. If they fade as possi-
bilities, announce that.
Three things a leader can do wrong during a crisis are to disap-
pear, to start and then stop communications, and to make promises
in the heat of the moment that they can’t keep later. Practice not
doing these three things when there isn’t a crisis, and you’ll do okay
when there is.
69. What’s going to happen to me?
This is a question that is asked but not vocalized, so you may have
to bring it up yourself. In any crisis people look closest to home first.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of—it comes from the survival instinct
in all of us. But sometimes, when we realized we’ve stopped think-
ing about the big picture and have focused on our own situation, we
feel guilty.
As a leader you need to remember that people are thinking about
the effect on their own lives even though that might not be what
they’re saying. You might have to say it for them. You might have
to bring up a question you know you can’t answer. How’s that for
walking out on a limb voluntarily?
The same issues we explored for the last two answers apply here.
Just because you don’t know the complete answer doesn’t mean you
can give an answer and promise more information as it becomes
available. Remember to keep your promises, however, or none of the
good will you had before the crisis will last.
70. Am I going to have a job next month?
Questions during a crisis are less about facts and more about emo-
tions. This question comes straight from the gut, not the head. Most
leaders I’ve watched acted as if it were just the opposite. When they
ignore the emotions and speak only to the facts, they lose their team
or their audience. That’s why Yes is such a tempting answer for a
leader and why leaders are tempted to use it when it doesn’t apply.
Nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to job security.
As much as you’d like to be able to answer this question with a yes,
don’t do it unless you are 100 percent certain.
Of course, not much in today’s world is 100 percent certain, so
your answer to this question is apt to be closer to I don’t know, and
there are some comments about that answer in the next chapter. But
you’re in front of your team right now and don’t have time to page
through a book to find a formula for success. (Don’t bother looking
for one. In this kind of situation, formulas don’t exist.) Think of it
this way. What would you want to hear in this situation? A forthright
I don’t know or a lot of fancy words and phrases used to obscure the
fact that what is being delivered is no answer at all?
Maybe there is a formula after all. Don’t ignore the emotions
you’re dealing with. Tell the truth, sincerely and frequently. Update
as promised in clear and simple language. Don’t make promises you
can’t keep. Keep the promises you do make, and stay visible. Don’t
shy away from the emotions; learn to deal with them. You’ll be a bet-
ter leader for it.
71. What’s the long-term impact of this crisis?
By the time this question is asked, the immediate crisis has proba-
bly faded. This question becomes the basis for dialogue about the
future. As a leader, you want to avoid the position of just being a
dispenser of wisdom most of the time. During a crisis it is appro-
priate for you to be an answerer; now that the crisis has passed, it
is time for you to encourage your team members to search for their
own answers.
Answering a question with a question can be seen as evasive—and
it often is. But when this technique is used judiciously, it can be quite
effective in bringing groups together to think. Review the following
dialogue to see this technique in action.
“What’s the long term impact for us, boss?”
“Actually I’m thankful that we’ve got enough breath-
ing space to ask about long-term anything. From what
you’ve seen and heard, what do you think?”
“I haven’t heard much, everybody’s keeping a pretty
low profile, but I did see some new orders being pro-
cessed. That’s got to be a good sign, doesn’t it?”
“I think so, too. Why don’t we get the team together
and share what everyone’s been hearing, and then I’ll
let you know what I’ve been told. Maybe together we
can start to build a picture of the future.”

72–73. What’s going to change? What’s going to
happen to my job?
Some questions that come up during mergers and acquisitions are
pretty easy to answer if you’re willing to face people who won’t be
happy with the answer. The answer to these questions falls into that
category. This won’t be a one-time conversation; what you’re about
to read is a very abbreviated version of a real conversation, but it
should give you some insights into the role you’re going to play.
“What’s going to change?” or “What’s going to happen
to my job?”
“Why don’t you count on everything changing.”
“You’re kidding, right? It’s all not going to change. It
couldn’t possibly do that.”
“I know we’d all like to believe that not much will
change, but my experience is that in situations like
ours, change becomes the norm.”
“I hate change.”
“You’re not the only one. I like to keep in mind that while
change is often hard, it can also be exciting. When I look
back, some of the toughest changes in my life turned out
to be times of growth and new opportunities.”
“Yeah, but it’s still hard.”
“Yeah, it’s hard. Let’s keep talking. We’ll be going
through it together.”
Leading people during times of change demands that a leader get
smart about how change affects people. Like other questions in this
book, these questions are all about emotions, not facts and figures.
If you try to answer them with facts and figures, you’ll miss the real
point of the question. Helping people sort through their emotions
is tough and probably wasn’t covered in your job training.
If you’re not developing your expertise around how people react
to change, this would be a perfect time to start. Change sneaks up
on you when you least expect it.
74. Who will be my leader?
This is a flattering question depending on the nonverbal behaviors
that go with its delivery. As a successful leader, you’re allowed to
bask in the warm feeling that this question conjures up for a few sec-
onds before you proceed to answer it. Time’s up.
In Creating You & Co., William Bridges suggests that “ Job secu-
rity no longer resides in a job (any job). It resides in your ability to
add value to what some organization does….” Try reading it with a
few words changed. Job security no longer resides in a boss (any
boss). It resides in your ability to lead yourself in a way that adds value
to what some organization does. Great leaders work with the mem-
bers of their teams to help them develop their own leadership skills.
Like good consultants and good parents, these leaders aim to
work themselves out of a job. They know that if they lead with this
attitude, their team will always value their leadership just as the con-
sultant will have clients that want them back and the parents will
have adult children who will always value their opinion. Leaders of
the old school—command-and-control types—are shortchanging
the people they lead and, ironically, themselves. They’ll never expe-
rience the joy of watching someone they’ve coached succeed on
their own. They’ll never get to marvel at the moment when the stu-
dent outpaces the teacher, and they’ll be poorer for it.
If you’ve never thought about this before, use this question as a
wake-up call. You need to review how you’re preparing your people
to lead themselves or transition to another leader. You need to help
your team own their values, their work, and their success.
If you’ve done your homework, Who’s going to be my leader? will
be an easy question to answer. Nothing’s going to change; you’ll keep
leading yourself.
75. Will our values last?
My guess is that you won’t be able to answer this question, but you
ought to be very glad someone asked it. Leaders help establish,
shape, and nurture organizational values. A leader who goes home
at night knowing their team lived their values that day has done the
job of a leader well. But values are fragile things. When they are
ignored or talked about but not practiced, they revert to words on
a page rather than guides to make decisions by.
People in organizations that have gone through mergers or
acquisitions will recount stories that reveal that integrating systems
is much easier than combining cultures. Mismatched values, oppo-
site views of the future, or competing styles of leadership can be
insurmountable obstacles to success.
So, what’s a leader to say when asked this question? How does a
leader nurture hope when it seems in short supply? By being authen-
tic. Authentic means saying, “I don’t know.” Authentic means shar-
ing your feelings and saying, “I worry about that, too.” Authentic
means being brave during change: “This is hard for all of us.”
Authentic means hanging in there: “I promise I’ll be here with you
tomorrow.” Authentic means keeping your team focused: “During
this time of change, let’s build our reputation as a team by focusing
on our customers.” Authentic means being a leader.

76–78. What will the organization do to sup-
port me? What are my benefits? What
will this mean for my career?
Up to this point, we’ve explored questions leaders need to ask and
answer. We haven’t looked at any questions leaders should not
answer. Now is the time, and these three questions are perfect exam-
ples of questions leaders shouldn’t answer by themselves.
Visualize a briefing after a plane crash. The chief investigator
from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is behind
the microphone giving an overview of the work the investigators
have done so far. A reporter asks a technical question about a report
of wind shear experienced by other pilots in the same airspace the
day of the crash. The chief investigator listens intently and says, “Let
me call John up to answer. John is our wind shear expert and I know
he’s been looking into that.” The leader steps aside and John takes
over. When that question is answered, the leader returns to the
lectern and takes the next question. At several points during the
briefing, the leader defers to others on his team who have the spe-
cialized knowledge to answer the question asked.
As you visualized this event, did you ever have a problem with
the leader’s credibility? I doubt that you did or would. Smart lead-
ers know what they know and, even more importantly, they know
what they don’t know. When faced with questions outside their
expertise, they don’t make things up, they don’t promise things that
might make sense on the surface but have serious consequences they
can’t envision, and they don’t brush off the question. They bring for-
ward people with specialized expertise, or they know how to con-
nect the questioner with the expert in a hurry.
Most of your situations won’t involve press conferences and
reporters clamoring for answers. Questions like the ones that can
arise during an employee’s personal crisis occur during one-on-one
time where the temptation to answer a question in order to help
someone in a time of need will be strong. You must resist the temp-
tation. People in crisis will cling to any answers and promises, and
if you’ve given one that your organization either can’t or won’t ful-
fill, you’re in trouble.
These are questions that need to be answered by your human
resources professionals, sometimes by your legal council, or by peo-
ple within your organization who have the appropriate expertise. If
you have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) program, they can
help. The key to answering employees’ questions when they’re in
the midst of a personal crisis is to know your limitations, know the
kind of support your employees can find elsewhere in your organi-
zation, and take the responsibility for finding the professional who
can help effectively.
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It is important that you give careful answers to the questions asked
of you in these special situations. When you’re on the receiving end
of the questions, there are a few behaviors to practice and remem-
ber. Look for opportunities to role-play your answers and find ways
to get feedback as you work on and develop your answering skills.
1. Engage your brain before you open your mouth. Most people
are uncomfortable with silence, so they rush to fill it. Resist.
Give yourself permission to think first and answer second.
2. If the answer is I don’t know, say I don’t know. Don’t ever
make things up because your ego thinks leaders are sup-
posed to have the answer to everything. (There is more
about an I don’t know answer in Chapter 8.)
The uncreative mind can spot
wrong answers, but it takes a
creative mind to spot wrong
—Sir Antony Jay, British writer
3. Make sure you understand the question before you answer
it. Repeating a question or asking for clarification is a good
idea. While the question is being clarified, you also get a
few more minutes to frame your answer.
4. When you’ve finished your answer, make sure you check with
the questioner and find out if you’ve actually answered their
question. If you get a yes, you can move on. If you get a no or
a questioning look, you need to continue the dialogue.
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1. What special situations in Chapter 7 did you find most compelling?
2. What other special situations do you face?
3. What questions do you need to answer in those situations?
4. How will you answer those questions?
5. What one thing do you most want to remember from this chapter?

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