Today I sent a project status report. Shortly afterward, I received an e-mail informing me that while I had reported a task as complete, it wasn’t actually complete. The manager wanted to know where I got my information, and I let them know I heard it on the status call. The manager then informed me via an e-mail cc’ing the world (OK not really, but when you are being criticized, it can feel that way) that I should get information from a reliable source, and the manager named a few. It just so happened one of those “reliable sources” was the person who told me the task was complete. Graciously, that person stepped up, responded to the e-mail, and said that she was mistaken and had passed the bad information on to me. The manager then sent me an e-mail berating this “reliable source” for passing on bad information. While the task was not done, it would still be done on time.
I’m not trying to gain sympathy (but if you are offering, I’ll take it), but what I thought this might help me illustrate is the forward focus concept taught in Making Managers into Leaders. Oftentimes leaders waste their time trying to determine what went wrong when a better focus would be to how to fix the situation. In my scenario, the solution would be to get a corrected status report.
The book discusses effective questions. Instead of asking “who told you that,” and “why aren’t you using reliable sources,” the questions should begin with “how” and “what”: “How do you populate the task completion information on the status report?” This doesn’t sound like an attack. If we were concerned about errors in the future, the question could be, “How could we tweak the process to help prevent incorrect information from appearing on status reports?” This question sounds like the leader is willing to work with the team towards the best solution.
I would encourage you to ask “how” and “what” questions when you are trying to understand an issue and to ensure that you are focused on finding the solution versus placing blame. You will find much greater success on your projects.