Marcus M. Mottley Ph.D
Monday, 26 September 2011 02:30
By Marcus M Mottley, PhD
As I see it, one of the issues which bedevils both political and business leaders in Antigua (and beyond) is that they are asking “Ask Backwards” questions.
So what is an “Ask Backwards” question? It is a question which tries to understand the present by focussing on the past. For example, a business leader might look at his current sales and recognise that they have missed their projections. He or she will then say, “We had a plan.
We had a projection. We did not meet it. What happened? What went wrong?”
“What went wrong?” is a question that focuses on the past. When things don’t go "right," most people look over their shoulders.
Now… let’s be clear. It is important to know what went wrong. It is important to understand our mistakes. It is important to learn lessons from the things that didn’t work. However, the problem with an “Ask Backwards” mindset is that leaders often get stuck there.
Not only do people get stuck in the past… they also begin to direct blame and look for the financial, economic, personnel, institutional, or other culprit that explains the gap between what was planned and what actually happened.
There is another very negative outcome of the “Ask Backwards” mindset… leaders (ministers, managers, supervisors…) become defensive. “Well, it is not really my fault… it is the global economy… (or the price of oil… the bank failures… the competition… the hurricanes, the earthquake…)!
An “Ask Backwards” mindset goes hand in hand with a “find a scapegoat” mindset. One of the excuses of people who are trapped in these mindsets is that “things didn’t go according to plan”. As a business consultant and clinical psychologist, one of the curious things that I have found is that in many cases there was no concrete plan. And if there was a plan… it was not well thought out, well known, or properly executed.
In many cases, the term "as expected" is probably better suited than the term "as planned". I think this is true across the board. It is true for governments, public institutions, corporations, and individuals who seek to be coached or receive counseling when their lives don’t go "as expected".
Ask Forward Mindset
An “Ask Forward” mindset looks to the future instead of looking backwards. Here are examples of some of the questions:
What are our plans/goals for the next six months? Based on those plans, where are we now? And, based on where we are now, what are our projections going forward? Will we achieve our plans/goals? Let’s say, for example, that the answer to the key question is that in six months we project that we will meet 70 percent of our goals. Then, the next question would be, “What do we have to do over the next six months to close the 30 percent gap – so that we do meet our goals? How can we strategically address the factors which seem to be causing us to miss our goals? What steps must we take now?
An “Ask Forward” mindset is the attitude of those leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs who have the winning edge and maintain success – despite the negative global economy, natural disasters, and all of the other things that seem to ail today’s private and public sector institutions.
“Ask Forward” leaders don’t wait until things go wrong to ask “What happened?” They plan ahead and look ahead. They aggressively and relentlessly monitor their current progress to see if they are still on the path to achieve their goals. And once they catch a whiff or nuance that their progress may be hindered… or that it has slowed… they jump in and do whatever is necessary to put them back on course.
The captain of a ship does not sleep at the wheel. S/he makes sure that there are lookouts. They monitor the weather, the waves, the winds… and the skyline. These days they monitor the radar and the weather channel. And so… they are rarely surprised by any sudden changes and shifts.
There is another critical feature… a crucial prerequisite… that describes effective ships’ captains. They know which port they are headed to. They know where they are going. And every person on the ship knows it too. And everyone on the ship is on the lookout… Everyone on the ship has a constant mindset of “Asking Forward” questions.
Organisations, companies, and countries are in trouble if the people (customers, staff and stakeholders) don’t know where the "ship" is headed. If they don’t know the goal… and if they don’t know the plan on how to achieve it… then they won’t know when the "ship" is off course. And more importantly, if they don’t know, they can’t ask sound “Ask Forward” questions.
So, I recommend that on a personal level, you use an “Ask Forwards” mindset in your life. Do you have a personal vision of where you are headed? What are the details of your personal plan to get there? What are your personal milestones? How do you monitor your progress?
In your organisation, have you been informed of the precise vision of your company? Have you been told of the detailed plan to achieve the vision? Do you know the role that you must play? Will you know when you, your team, your department and/or the organisation are off course? Do you feel empowered to share your perspective or take corrective action?
In our country… Well, I will leave you the reader to ask the appropriate questions regarding our nation.
However, let’s help our leaders to be “Ask Forwards” rather than “Ask Backwards”.
Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D. is an Executive Coach, Organizational Consultant & Clinical Psychologist