The Hands-Off Manager: How Questions Can Lead to Success

By Steve Chandler and Duane Black

Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers. Voltaire

The hands-off manager doesn’t spend a lot of time giving advice.

Instead, he perfects his ability to ask questions. Questions that allow success and fulfillment to happen. Questions such as, “What things come naturally to you? How comfortable are you doing this work? How easy is the work flow for you right now?”

Finding the positive solution

We have been trained by the media, by our families, by our traditions, and by our culture to focus on the negative and try to fix it. We obsess over sins and shortcomings, trials and tribulations. We try to go outside ourselves to change the negative things. Then we try in vain to create an external situation that’s positive.

But none of that works, because the positive solution is on the inside. What we were seeking was already in us. No wonder we couldn’t find it out there.

And just how do you find these solutions inside you? Questions! Just start asking questions. And then listen.

Take just a moment after you do something and question how it feels to you. You just sent an email to a team member whose actions upset you. Do you feel a sense of satisfaction? Do you feel a sense of fulfillment? Could you say to someone, “I loved doing that. That was fun for me.” Or do you feel a sense of guilt and dissatisfaction?

Just listen to that feeling, whatever it is. With a little practice and discipline, it’s not hard to find a way to test all your actions against this inner knowing. To tune your instrument for excellence and efficiency. Soon your e-mails and other communications are both compassionate and powerful. You tune to ways of communicating that are clear and satisfying.

I was talking to a manager named George about slowing down and listening to his inner, higher wisdom, when he finally said, “You mean I should love everything I do?”

“That would be ideal.”

“If I wanted to do that, all I would do is play golf!”

“What can I give?”

Very funny, George. But golf is your entertainment, not your work. And entertainment has its place in our world. But entertainment, unless you’re a pro sports figure or an actor (and even those people work very hard at accomplishing what they do) will not bring you true joy and fulfillment. It will not give you a sense of satisfaction and well-being. Those kind of feelings only come from what you accomplish, what you contribute, or what you do to make a difference.

Your work will provide you these feelings. Your true feeling of success will only come from what you give to the world through your work and love, and entertainment is based on what you can get from the world.

Someone similar to Jack Nicolas, who works as hard as he does on his golf game, is actually giving a lot. He is a professional sports figure who has millions of people following him and gaining pleasure from watching him play. That’s what he’s getting paid for. So his level of play is a gift to sports fans.

He also works at golf in a different way than we do. We just go out and play at golf, but it’s not play for him. It’s a discipline, and he’s only at his best when he transcends the play. The difference between Jack’s golf and our golf is that Jack’s golf is a gift to someone else, and our golf is only entertaining for ourselves. Giving versus getting—one of the deepest principles of hands-off professional success.

The ultimate functional question is this: “How can I contribute?” Or, “What can I give?”

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Most people in the workplace are focused on getting. They want to get instant results from their efforts. They are obsessed about the external and the negative. They fret about how much time off the guy next to them takes, and how much more pay the other person gets, and how much more time the other person spends on personal conversations. Their self-criticism turns outward all day.

But then there’s a happier, more successful person in the workplace, who is living inside a different mindset. A different set of questions, such as, “How can I do a better job? How can I contribute? How can I make a difference here? What can I do to make this a better company?”

That darned person! She just keeps getting further and further ahead of the negative person next to her! The judgmental person next to her continues to become more and more resentful of her success. And they cannot see, for the life of them, what the happy person’s success was caused by— living with a different set of questions.

Getting to success

Success comes from the questions you ask yourself.

When negative people try to figure out other people’s success, they ask all the wrong questions. They ask, “Were they the first ones to work that morning, and the last one to leave?” Or, “Did they make sure they didn’t make a single personal call that day?” Or, “Did they make sure they didn’t take any breaks or greet people, visit people, and catch up in the break room?” Or, “Did they avoid making mistakes?”

They don’t realize that the success occurred because that person came to contribute. Not to compare. Not to worry about what she was going to get. She came to give.

It’s amazing how the ones who don’t worry about what they’re going to get are the ones who always seem to get the good stuff. And those who come to get something wonder why they can’t obtain it! They wonder why life always feels so unfair. Those who come to give something wonder why they always got a raise and didn’t even have to ask for it. They wonder why they’re the ones who are always considered for the promotion, when others have been there longer.

It’s fundamentally a shift from trying to force success to happen, to allowing success to occur through continuous contribution.

The hands-off manager models, inspires, and nurtures this giving approach. He or she mentors contribution. When you take your hands off people’s lives and let them give what they’ve got, you’ll be allowing them to succeed. They will look to see what’s inside them, and they will look to see how they can give that to the world.

And that, literally, allows them to be successful. They don’t have to strive for it anymore. They don’t have to force it. They don’t have to use rigorous willpower. They just have to do what they love to do. Soon they will always be thinking about how they can share their natural ability with those they serve.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THE HANDS-OFF MANAGER © 2012 Steve Chandler and Duane Black. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.

Steve Chandler is a best-selling author of 30 books that have been translated into over 25 languages, including 100 Ways to Motivate Others and 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself. Contact him at Duane Black was the executive vice president and chief operating officer of SunCor Developments, where he oversaw 150 employees and more than 150,000 acres of housing developments. He currently runs his own consulting firm in Arizona.


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