I was working in a startup building a new product line. One of the owners good friends (we’ll call him Jack – not his real name) was between roles as a high powered executive, and was spending some time with us working on business growth, and had spent a bit of time in my department.
One (already busy) day we had an order come in that we needed to deliver on a tight timeframe, and there was a lot of manual processing to be done to fulfill the order. I was still fairly new in the role, and didn’t have a broader perspective of what was going on at the time – I just understood that I had access to another set of hands, eyes and a highly intelligent brain.
So I start putting things together for the new order, and asked Jack to start working on one of the existing orders waiting to be filled. I was giving him a lot of direction, as I hadn’t yet developed much beyond simple checklists for the delivery of the product. Jack started asking questions about what we were doing. In my naivete, I thought he wanted to understand the process better. I answered most of his questions, but at one point Jack replied “but I still don’t understand why…” I didn’t let him finish his sentence before interrupting him with “I don’t need you to understand, I just need you to do it.”
Jack got on with the job, and we delivered all orders on time. But that moment stuck with me, and was repeated back to me many times in the following weeks. Jack took it as a signal of my confidence to be able to give clear directions and complete the job without being caught up in teaching someone who would not be there long term. But as I reflect on it I see that there was a lot more going on than I originally realized.
Jack didn’t need to understand the process – he needed me to teach it. He wanted me to think about things so I could more clearly document our processes and train our staff in the future. At the time it seemed like it was a waste of our time going over things in detail, but there was a real purpose in what Jack was asking of me.
I’ve learned a few things from this experience, and I’m sure that in the future I’ll learn even more as I recall those events.
- Jack taught me that good leaders ask lots of questions, even when it’s inconvenient.
- Jack taught me that understanding why is the foundation of all good processes
- And Jack taught me to look at the positives in every situation.
You see, Jack could have gotten upset at me very easily in that moment. We had a good relationship, but I didn’t offer him the respect he deserved in that moment, and I let the stress of delivery affect my communication. Instead, he looked for something good in my actions, and praised that.
I only worked with him for a few weeks, but I’ll always value the experience (more so now than I did then). It was a great opportunity to learn from someone who I usually wouldn’t have a lot of access to, and I’m grateful for it.
So think about your team – do you ask enough questions? Do you get them thinking about Why? Are you able to focus on the positives and remove your own ego from these moments? With practice, we all can become more like Jack.