Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

The Power of the Obvious Question

ARCHIVES

When faced with an intractable or complex problem, it's easy for leaders to get bogged down in the minutiae when trying to come up with a solution. Another trap is to go binary - it's either this or it's that - too soon in the decision making process. Rather than opening up options and possibilities, we sometimes try to solve complex problems by settling for the least painful of the most obvious options.

It's at times like this, that's it's helpful to have someone in the room who can step back, get up on the balcony and ask some questions that seem obvious in retrospect but maybe weren't asked because everyone else was too close to the situation at hand.

There was a great example of this in a recent Newsweek article by Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas on Vice President Joe Biden. Here's an extended excerpt that paints the picture:

"Joe Biden had a question. During a long Sunday meeting with President Obama and top national-security advisers on Sept. 13, the VP interjected, 'Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?' Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. 'And how much will we spend on Pakistan?' Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. 'Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?' The White House Situation Room fell silent. But the questions had their desired effect: those gathered began putting more thought into Pakistan as the key theater in the region."
There are several things I find instructive in this story. First, Biden is making his point based on facts that may have been lost in the discussion. Second, he links those facts to a bigger picture. Third, he uses those facts and that bigger picture to cause his colleagues to pull up and challenge their assumptions.

What obvious questions do you need to ask to help your team challenge their assumptions? Are you even the best person to ask those questions or is that role better played by designating someone on your team to play the role of devil's advocate? What are the pros and cons of either approach?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.