Mind your P’s and Q’s is an English language phrase that means “mind your manners”, “be on your best behavior” or “watch what you are doing.” (For more on the origin of this phrase go here.). While that might be reasonable advice for leaders, that isn’t the point of this article. I want to encourage you to mind (pay attention to) your P’s (pronouns) and Q’s (questions). When you pay more attention to these two things you will immediately and automatically become a better leader.
Increasingly it is important to know our team members enough to know which pronouns they prefer when referring to them. As important as that might be to an individual, my point about minding your p’s, is much larger than that.
You can learn about a team, a leader, and any individual by listening to the pronouns they use.
Think about it…
If someone most frequently uses “I,” “me,” and “you,” is their focus different than if they say “we,” “us,” and “our” more often?
“We” language is far more focused on others than “me” language.
“You” language can become full of blame, while “our” is more inclusive.
Generally speaking, I view these language choices as a subconscious signaling of what people are thinking and where they put their focus. And while I use this observation in all sorts of situations, let’s put the focus on our own experience for a second.
- Which leader would you most likely want to follow – the me or we leader?
- Which team would you more likely choose to be an engaged member of?
And now, back to you as a leader…
- Which person do you most want to be?
- And which pronouns do you most often use in writing, conversation and in your thinking?
Using personal pronouns doesn’t make you a bad person – and everyone will use them at times to be a clear communicator. The question to consider is – What is your default?
Questions can help us learn and build others up and they can also powerfully point the finger and blame at others too. The best leaders are skilled at using questions for powerful and positive outcomes.
And yet, many leaders don’t ask as many questions as they could. Perhaps it is because of perceived need to maintain a power position by answering more than asking. Maybe it is because their ego says they are supposed to know the answers, or that they feel the leader is supposed to know all the answers. Regardless of the reason, too many leaders ask too few questions.
Look to increase your question-to-answer ratio in ways like these:
- Ask because you assume others have information you don’t have
- Ask to understand the perspective of others
- Ask to gain new ideas
- Ask to build commitment
- Ask to create participation and engagement in meetings
- Ask people how they feel they are doing
- Ask for feedback on your performance
And, to follow my own advice, how, why, and when else can you ask more questions?
Doing more of these things will increase the number of valuable questions you ask.
The Connection Between Our Pronouns and Questions
The concept of tying the phrase “minding our p’s and q’s” to leadership might seem strange or even forced. But there is a critically important connection between our use of pronouns and the quantity of questions we ask. Getting both right requires us to put our focus on others and not ourselves.
If we are inwardly focused, we will likely use more personal pronouns and ask fewer questions. And if we are more outwardly focused on others – those we lead – we will ask more questions to engage, understand and value those team members, and our pronouns will reflect that too.
One of the colloquial meanings of minding your p’s and q’s is to watch what we are doing. If we will watch where we are putting our attention – and focus more of it outwardly on others, we will become better leaders.
Looking for a more powerful way to become a more effective, and confident leader? Are you an experienced leader looking to move your skills – and career – to the next level? If so, I invite you to become a part of the Remarkable Leadership Learning Community. It is a virtual ongoing learning opportunity to learn from a group of peers, and me. You can learn much more about what it is, and how you can become a part of it here. <- http://KevinEikenberry.com/community This might be the most important opportunity of your leadership journey.