Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leadership and the Jeopardy Moment

Volume: April - Mid 2013


By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


“I’ll take Leadership for one thousand, Alex.” Yes, many of us have Jeopardy® fantasies once in a while. We picture ourselves locked into the moment, clicker in hand, ready to spring upon the next correct answer. The answers, however, are already provided for us in Jeopardy. Those of you familiar with the program know that Jeopardy is all about questions. In fact, the responses of the contestants must be stated in the form of a question. Effective leadership is sometimes like that: Stating meaningful information in the form of a question. Let’s go deeper into this concept.


Recently, a leader named Joe was sincerely interested in helping a peer of his. Let’s call the peer Edward. Joe and Edward had participated in a meeting with ten other people. During the meeting, it became clear that Edward was not up to speed on all the issues. Joe had some key information (and insights) that he knew would be useful to Edward. So, after the meeting Joe said to his Edward, “Here is some information that will help you address some of the items we just covered.” And Joe then proceeded to share important information with Edward. Logic tells us that the Edward would be receptive to and attentive during the follow up conversation. However, logic does not always prevail, does it? In a startling revelation, Joe found Edward to be laissez faire and unappreciative of his remarks. Have you ever been on one end of a situation like this? Heck, I am a parent. I am on the “Joe” end of this conversation quite often.  


Related: How to Deliver Difficult Conversations 


There are a myriad of potential reasons why people are not receptive to great information and keen insights. Sometimes their ego is dented by learning things from peers or subordinates. Sometimes they have miscalculated how important the information is and they take it lightly. Sometimes they are in denial regarding the level of skills and abilities they truly possess. Some of you may also be saying to yourselves: “Or they are just plain stupid.” Be nice now!


No matter what the reason is for team members not being receptive to our information, as leaders it is our job to deliver important communications that stick. This is where Jeopardy enters the picture. More specifically, this is where effective leaders employ the art of the question.




Let’s revisit the earlier scenario, but have Joe use different techniques. In other words, same trigger point, but a different delivery. This time, Joe tees up the conversation by using two powerful questions. The first is to simply ask: “Do you have a minute to discuss something?” Many professionals have meetings stacked one on top of another. By asking this short question, Joe will learn if Edward has enough time available to engage in a short conversation. The second question that Joe would ask is: “If I had some information and an insight or two to share with you (pause), would that be of interest?” This question will give Joe a gauge of Edward’s level of sincere interest. More importantly, when Joe tees up the conversation via a series of questions, as opposed to directly “telling,” he gives Edward more of a feeling of control. Most people like to have control: Over their lives, over the direction in which they are moving, over their workplace. Sometimes, people in the workplace simply like to have control over the information, feedback, and criticisms they receive.


Fast forward a few days. Joe is using the Jeopardy technique on a regular basis and teeing up important information-sharing moments using questions. In the process, he is building all kinds of leadership cache by allowing people to choose if they want to receive advice or not. In addition, Joe is coming across more as a coach and a mentor, and less of a know-it-all. Nice!


Bottom Line: Leaders impact culture®. Make sure your workplace culture possesses communication that sticks. When the timing is right, “ask rather than tell” by using the Jeopardy method to tee up important information you want to share. You will actually save time by avoiding meaningless conversations. Think of what you could do with all that extra time. Hmmn: “Alex, I believe I’ll try Famous Coaches for eight hundred……”   


Doug Van Dyke is the Alex Tribek of leadership consultants in Tampa Bay. To learn more about leadership development programs, executive coaching, and consulting services, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com.


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