A while ago, I was working on homework with my kids, when my youngest asked me a question. I promptly replied with the answer, proud of my prowess for elementary school topics, and he seemed content.

My wife, however, as a very talented primary school teacher, did not seem so impressed.

She explained -- and in doing so taught me -- how important it was to challenge children and encourage them to think independently. And one simple way to achieve this was to engage the question by asking, "What do you think?"

At the time, this seemed like a bad idea, and I have to admit, I struggled with whether I would have the patience to engage in a lengthy discussion about a question or matter that I could solve in a few seconds -- then move on.

Over time this habit yielded some incredibly memorable discussions, and it instilled confidence in my kids that they had the capability of coming up with answers on their own. I transitioned into a trusted advisor to correct or confirm their work.

While this scenario might seem irrelevant, it is absolutely similar to leadership and management.

Today, I find that many young employees are coming out of school as problem finders -- readily able to identify issues and verbalize them. Fewer and fewer, however, are entering industry as problem solvers -- readily able to identify solutions and verbalize them.

It is not difficult to figure out why. Today, we are inundated with notifications, content, and endless video streaming, so we seemingly are in nonstop "intake" mode, rarely engaging our minds with complicated matters to produce "output."

Moreover, we all carry -- or have access to -- a portable handheld computer, which provide quick answers to any question instead of requiring us to stop and think about them.

For instance, when was the last time you sat with friends at a table and argued about the number of actors who have appeared in at least two trilogy movies? In the past, this would have taken hours as you discussed the possibilities and ended up regressing into discussions of favorite movies, memories, and so on.

Now, we just take out our phones and look up the answer on Google.

Regularly asking "What do you think?" of your employees and team members can serve to engage them and require them to think critically about a situation. It is a habit, for you and for them, that will create an environment where everyone defaults to thinking about answers first rather than simply how to phrase the question.

It turns your employees into a team of problem solvers.

Asking this question also instills confidence by showing value for the opinions of your employees, and it demonstrates your willingness to engage with your team and weigh options.

I have been using this questions since those early homework days, as a dad, a manager, and a mentor. It is the simplest way I have found to create more meaningful, two-way conversations that engage and ultimately encourage creativity and confidence.

So, what do you think? What other ways have you engaged and encouraged critical thinking in your team? Share your thoughts with us on social media.

(And, in case you are wondering, until the early nineties, the number of actors appearing in at least two trilogies was only four -- Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Maria Shriver. Today, however, that number is much higher -- see if you can figure it out without looking it up.)

Published on: Aug 30, 2018
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