I spent part of this week with a team of people who have been working to solve a complex problem for several months. This week something clicked, or shifted, and a set of ideas caught fire. The team hatched exciting new ideas and they also each cleared the space on their calendars and to-do lists to take ownership of next steps.

There was agency, innovation, shared purpose and commitment to action.

What happened next could have been a bucket of cold water on all of that progress.

A leadership team convened to be briefed on the work. The session could have easily turned into a group edit. With each leader lobbing in an edit to the language or a tweak to the timeline. Maybe those refinements would have moved the dial … improving the project by some small percentage.

But that “refining” feels like nitpicking. It feels like the progress – the accomplishment – goes unseen until the leaders have their stamp on it. And that feels yucky. Those moves – however well intentioned – make the meeting about the leaders. Suddenly the energy shifts and it’s all about a set of “leaders” flexing their expertise in the name of refining the work.

What actually happened was leadership in action. It was a simple question, “what can each of us do to best support your plan?”

That move feeds the very agency and problem-solving that the team wants to see more of.

Those leaders recognized they were sitting with a choice. They could choose to engage in a group edit that drains the oxygen and commitment from the room. OR, they could feed the very behaviors they want to amplify by asking how they can best demonstrate their support.

One question. That’s it. How can we support you?

No tweaks. No, “I wonder…what would happen if we…” No, “what about this word instead?”

Many of us come to these moments with good intentions. We share our insights and we don’t pause to ask ourselves if this really needs to be said. We don’t pause to ask ourselves if what comes out of our mouths is in service of the people we’re working to support or in service of our own egos.

Does this need to be said?

What else might I say or ask?

What am I feeding with each option?

Two fun things on my mind. Delighted by these cone of shame pics. The latest addition to the Dictionary of Missing Words really lands for me (scroll a bit in the link to get to it).