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Are You a Wonder Leader?

Jonathan Schultz
November 27th, 2017

Take the "Wonder Leader" test! When it comes to direct reports, many managers are constantly trying to figure things out. They question employee performance asking, “Why won’t my employees do what I tell them?” or “Why won’t they do what it takes to be successful?” Managers may also wonder, “Are my employees happy? What is going on in their heads right now?”

This purpose of this article is to help you identify if you are a Wonder Leader. A Wonder Leader is a manager who spends more time wondering about, than learning employees, mindsets, challenges, and opportunities that could help you better understand and improve your team.

Take the Wonder Leader Test below. Answer “True” to any of these questions if you catch yourself saying or thinking the statements that follow:

  1. I am often frustrated my employees don’t do what I ask. “I wonder why they won’t…”
  2. I don’t understand why we can’t achieve our goals: “I think my employees should work harder…”
  3. I claim my employees are lazy, stupid, or insubordinate: “I think they are just…”
  4. Employees quit and I don’t know the reason: “I wonder why they left…”
  5. Employees quit and I assume I know the reason: “I think they quit because…”
  6. I feel like my employees talk about me behind my back: “I wonder what they say after meetings when they huddle at the water cooler…”

Answer "yes" to at least 2 of those questions above, and you may be a Wonder Leader.

Being a Wonder Leader is very frustrating and downright dangerous to your career. Never really knowing what is going on can take its toll on you as a manager. In fact, some managers even quit, step down, or get fired due to the problems that arise from being a Wonder Leader.

This Happens For 3 Reasons:

1. You Make Costly Assumptions

You should not act on an assumption. If you do the results could be devastating. You may be deciding that the worst-case scenario is happening. HINT: It’s probably not the case. You can’t treat the disease without knowing the illness. Making the wrong decision due to a false reality probably isn’t a good career move.

2. You Damage Your Brand

Making a data-driven decision is critical in many areas and management is not exempt in this instance. Telling people what they’re thinking or presenting assumptions as facts lessens your credibility as a leader. When you don’t have the answers because you are wondering, you can appear incompetent or naive.

3. You Can't Improve

Growth occurs when you bring knowledge to the table. The Johari Window model states that bringing information into the arena makes something common knowledge for all involved parties to understand, and this is the point in which growth occurs. . When you withhold “facades,”pretending you know the answer, assuming you know, or not knowing and being ok with that, you never get the opportunity to improve, nor do other parties involved.

Stop Wondering and START ASKING!

Now that we’ve helped you understand how to determine if you, or a colleague, is a Wonder Leader, and the dangers involved, I will let you in on the good news: There is a cure!

When coaching a Wonder Leader, I openly ask, “Why won’t you ask?” There are usually three reasons this doesn’t happen:

1.      They fear a negative response.

2.      They don’t believe it will make a difference.

3.      They don’t know how to ask.

Here are a few tips for overcoming these three, growth hindering obstacles. First, let’s address number one. If you approach someone in the right way, recruit them to the cause by ensuring they know the benefit that can come out of a coaching conversation, they probably won’t respond negatively. Ensure they know the goal of the conversation up front, prior to laying the questions on them. You could recruit them by saying something like, “I want to ensure you are growing in your career, and as my direct report I feel it’s my responsibility to find ways to help you improve… Is now a good time to have a conversation about (insert what you are wondering about here)?”

Some people are too busy to slow down and try to explain something to someone, meaning you don’t believe you have the time to help. Other leaders may think that even if I tell them, they won’t change. Here’s the bottom line, and I quote Wayne Gretsky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

You owe it to your direct reports to discover the problem through questioning. You took the job as their leader: No one put a gun to your head. You also owe it to your employees to help solve the problem after you understand the situation. Seek to understand, and help your direct reports create an action plans that will solve the issues. You won’t have to wonder anymore and things will improve. If they don’t improve, at a minimum, you’re now able to decide next steps with a clean conscious

Finally, to address the last reason, and in my opinion the easiest to address. Ask your employees how you should ask! When you address them from a place of care, with their improvement in mind and recruit them from that place, you can get them to tell you everything. You don’t even need to think of the question!

For Example: If you’re thinking, “I wonder why they left?” You could call your former employee and ask, “I want to improve the workplace and prevent losing more good employees like yourself. How could I ask you what happened in a way that you would be willing to help me understand what happened?”

When you stop wondering, stop assuming, and take the time to ask why in an open and respectful way, you can get to the bottom of almost any challenge. Only after deeper questioning can you really understand their mindset and help them overcome it.


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