Transform your leadership style with better answers

a year ago   •   4 min read

By Brian Glibkowski
Dr Brian Glibkowski on how to improve and transform your leadership style


As a leader, you spend your days in meetings, making presentations, and in one-on-one conversations.  In all these interactions, questions and answers are always present.  As a society we are well versed in the importance of questions, which is exemplified by famous quotes from some of society’s luminaries:            


“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire

The preceding quotes emphasize the importance of questions and the importance of questions OVER answers.  The focus of my recent book, Answer Intelligence: Raise Your AQ  was to highlight the value of answers. 

For example, you are taught different question types in grade schools, such as open and closed questions, or the six WH questions (why, what, when, where, who, how).  However, before my research, there was no typology of answers.  In other words, we have lists of questions to choose from, but there is no corresponding list of answers to help us navigate important conversations in both business and in life.

To address this gap, my colleagues and I studied the top golf instructors in the world as rated by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, an expert study of those in the upper half of the 99th percentile of their profession.  The result was a typology of six answer types (story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure, action) that map to questions. 

For the first time, as a leader, you now have a framework to ask questions and provide answers.  I refer to this framework as Answer Intelligence, or AQ for short.  The name has a second, hidden meaning. The A (for answers) and Q (for questions) recognize that Answers are new (hence “A” is first), but no science of answers can exist without the science of questions (hence “Q” is second).




Communication = Questions + Answers

70% to 90% of a leader’s time is spent communicating with teams and other stakeholders.  To be an effective leader, AQ can help you navigate any conversation.  You can use AQ to provide the right answer to any why, what, or how question.

For example, imagine an executive team conversation where the discussion centres around employee engagement.  A colleague asks, “What is employee engagement?” because employee engagement is a term that is often thrown around carelessly and is not well understood.      

The leader with High AQ can answer this what-question with a concept and/or a metaphor.  For example, a High AQ leader could provide a concept answer: “Employee engagement has three components. (1) cognitive engagement (thinking about the job/organization), (2) physical engagement (stamina to do the job), and (3) emotional engagement (care for the job/organization). 

This concept answer demonstrates a strong knowledge of engagement.  Or, a metaphor can be provided, such as, “Employee engagement is like a magnet and iron filings.  Employee engagement is the magnet that can attract your best employees.”  

In another leadership example, in a sales meeting, the prospect may ask, “Why should I hire you?”  This serious question is often left for you, the sales leader, to answer.  Demonstrating High AQ, you can respond with a story or a theory (cause-and-effect business strategy). 

In yet another leadership example, a new direct report may ask a leader “How to develop a report, develop a slide deck, or do another aspect of their job.”  How questions are answered with a procedure and/or action.  A procedure represents the steps in a recipe and action is any given step (such as cracking an egg).

Effective leaders can answer important questions using AQ.  


“If I had an hour to solve a problem… I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.” – Albert Einstein


Answer with Style

There is a big difference between answering a specific question, as discussed in the prior section, and your answer style.  Yes, an effective leader should listen for the specific why-, what-, and how-questions and provide the corresponding answer. 

However, answer style is an enduring preference to provide answers in a conversation, regardless of the questions being asked. In my research, three answer styles were identified: relational (story + metaphor), analytical (theory + concept), and practical (procedure + action). For example, perhaps you are a leader that likes to provide a story and will do so whenever you can fit one in.  You might have a relational answer style.

The purpose of the relational style is to make an emotional connection, the analytical style explains and predicts, and the practical style is focused on getting work done.  Effective leaders will recognize their own style. 

Focus on what you do well, perhaps stories and metaphors if you have a relational style, and work on your weakness.  Perhaps your weakness is the analytical style, so you may work on being seen as a strategic thinker that connects to the firm’s big picture and its future direction. 

Second, you must understand the style of those you communicate with. Sticking with the previous example, you may have a relational style, but your team is comprised of individuals with a practical style. 

If you want to make an impact, your answers should feature a higher base rate of procedures and actions to tailor your answers to the style they will be most receptive to.

Finally, I have found that the best communicators are renaissance communicators, those that are equally comfortable communicating in all three answer styles. 

Such communicators are dynamic and energizing and can appeal to the head, hands, and heart of others.  Imagine your next meeting where you provide a story (appealing to the heart), then pivot to a procedure to implement a key aspect of the story (appealing to the hands), and seamlessly make the connection to theory/business strategy (appealing to the head).  In so doing, your answers address important why, what, and how questions and your impact is maximized.  

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