It was the middle of the night, and Jack was being mindful of where he placed his feet. He knew by feel which of the floor boards were sure to creak. The last thing he wanted to do was to disturb his wife. Waking up to find Jack pacing the halls would only add to her concern about the effect that stress was having on his health and happiness. There was a gentle breeze blowing through the windows, the house was quiet, dark and peaceful. It was the perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep. But, Jack’s mind was not cooperating.
He kept thinking about what he saw as he walked through the office. His team was working. They seemed fairly happy, he even heard a little good natured ribbing being exchanged. Yet, there was no energy in the room. It lacked the sounds and the frenetic feel of a highly productive workplace. He just got the sense that people were going through the motions, “punching the clock”. That was a far cry from the vibrant, innovative culture he aimed to create.
After pacing the hallway in a hopscotch manner to avoid the creaking boards, he made his way to the kitchen. Knowing that sleep was not in the cards, he decided that he might as well make use of the time. He sat at the table and opened his laptop. He went on to Google and typed “How do I engage my employees?”. The search came back with a veritable smorgasbord of solutions. “6 Wise Things Leaders do to Engage Their Employees”; “8 Tips to Engage Your Employees”; “59 Powerful and Proven Employee Engagement ideas”. He also learned that there were webinars that offered “guaranteed tools for success”, and he needed to register now, because space was filling up quickly. Jack thought to himself, “How do these people have the answers? They don’t understand my business, and they certainly don’t know me or my team”. Exasperated, he closed the lid of his laptop, and prepared to resume his cautious pacing. As he turned to get up, he was met by his wife’s gaze. “I am not sure what is causing you to be up, but whatever it is, why don’t you just call Bob in the morning? He helps you think things through.” Jack knew she was right.
Bleary eyed, but bolstered by a second cup of coffee, Jack picked up the phone to call Bob. He explained his concern and shared what he found during his midnight Google search. Bob chuckled and said, “It is amazing how many experts exist who can tell you exactly what to do as if it were that easy. I am glad you called, let’s think this through.”
Bob started to ask Jack questions. “Why do you feel your team is not engaged? Have you talked with any of your team members about your concern? Do you feel your team understands the organization’s purpose?” The questions kept coming for another 30 minutes, some of which Jack could answer, others were meant simply to be contemplated further. When the conversation concluded, Jack had far more clarity about where things stood and what action he needed to take. Bob never told him what to do. He offered no prescription for an easy cure. He simply helped Jack by asking the right questions.
I offer this little tale to illustrate a point. We live in an era where we are all searching for answers, especially those that offer short cuts. But, in my somewhat humble opinion, most answers aren’t found externally, but rather internally. To find the ideal solution, it requires having an intimate knowledge of the industry, organization, culture and people. So the next time you find yourself wandering the halls, trying to avoid the creaking floorboard, don’t expect to find the answers. Rather, find someone who can ask you the right questions, help you determine the needed action steps, and then hold you accountable for taking those steps.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Linked2Leadership. He serves as a thinking partner, providing clients with the clarity, focus, and tools needed to make good people and product decisions. He helps clients build lasting relationships with their customers, develop leaders who make others feel heard, cared for, valued and respected, and most importantly grow.
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