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Ask open-ended questions to better understand your context

When coming to a new position, whether in a position of leadership or not, one of your first priorities should be to gain an understanding of your context. You need to learn who your colleagues are, what they value, where they see threats, and where they see opportunities.

Most importantly, and particularly in the first few days, your job at the beginning is to gain an understanding of the organizational context. You have a golden opportunity to ask the really obvious questions that many people stop asking after a while. Here are a few examples:

  • What works well?
  • What does not work well?
  • How can we improve on this?
  • What are the underlying processes?
  • Who are the decision makers?
  • Where are the road blocks?
  • Why are you doing things this way?

With regards to that latter point, the answer to this will tell you a lot about how much wiggle room you have. You should not, under any circumstances, accept the answer “that’s how we’ve always done it”. This is quite simply a bad answer, and one which should be challenged.

While there was likely a reason for it back in the day, as times go by, things change. Reasons which may once have been valid, will often have changed. By assuming permanence , you are setting yourself up to fail. Conversely, by challenging your assumptions, you enable yourself to grow, to learn, and to improve.

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