Good Leaders Ask the Questions Others Won’t

good leaders ask questionsOne of my favorite questions to ask leaders when they are unhappy with someone’s performance is “knowing what you know now, would you hire them today?” Usually, the answer is an immediate “no.” Then the harder, follow up question is “so what are you going to do now?” Although it seems like a no-brainer that if you would not hire them, you should release them, it’s never that easy.

The most common reason I hear for not wanting to let them go is what I’ve heard called the “sunk cost fallacy” which translates to comments like, “they’ve been employed so long and so much has been invested in them,” or “we know how to work around them,” or “they have good days, etc.” Essentially, the belief is that with a little more time, they will magically morph into that employee you wish you had hired to begin with. Here’s the reality – they will never turn into that butterfly. They are who they are and the only thing that will help the situation is the leader seeing it for what it is and the employee for who they are. Time is not something that will help the situation, one more dollar in the slot will not get you closer to the jackpot.

This is one of the hardest things for leaders to deal with. Even those who are brilliant at strategy, execution, leadership or who have any of a number of other talents have difficulty believing that their investment is not going to pay off. I can tell you from a lot of experience that It won’t. Cut the cord. It might seem heartless but it’s an expensive proposition not to and you are depriving that employee of finding the right spot where they can be successful.

As a leader, you must ask the questions – the questions that uncover the real issues and lead to critical decisions. If you don’t, you end up making decisions based on misinformation. Decisions made with inaccurate information lead to bad outcomes, some of which can be catastrophic. One of the reasons leaders don’t ask the hard questions is they don’t want the answer said out loud. Sometimes they know it’s bad but want to pretend it’s not. This is the “head in the sand strategy” that usually just gets you a face full of sand and your rear exposed. Neither is an appetizing proposition.

Of course, once you’ve asked the questions, got the answers you didn’t expect or didn’t want, now you must act. Not acting on the information is worse than not having the information. It is viewed as a sign of weakness by the team. Good leaders make the hard decisions but first, they must ask the hard questions.