Personal Questions Lead to Professional Success

When you’re holding regular accountability meetings with your people, it’s natural for personal issues to come up. If you’re still stuck in “leave your personal life at the door,” thinking, get over it – that’s old school, and will keep you stuck where you are now. If you want better results, face the fact that personal and professional issues are bound to intermingle at work, and taking care of the personal stuff WILL take care of the business stuff.

Consider the case of Susan, a financial advisor at a large financial services firm. Like a lot of people, she came to me with a specific professional goal in mind. In her case, she wanted to become a senior vice president.

“By when?” I asked.

“By the end of the year,” she asserted.

“What’s appealing about becoming a senior VP?” I asked.

“More money, more status, more responsibility, more challenge, larger staff, my own office,” she rattled off.

So far, so good. Susan was clear about her goal and the benefits of achieving that goal.

But when I asked, “What’s in the way?” she soon realized that the answer was her personal life. Susan was a single parent – divorced – with four children. She also had welcomed other children into her home: a niece and nephew whose mother was ill; a church congregation member who needed a temporary place to stay; and a troubled teen whose parents couldn’t handle him. Susan had a big heart – and no small amount of stress.

To make matters worse, Susan did laundry for the people living in her home well past the age when they could do it for themselves. She also did all of the shopping and cooking for her growing household. In effect, she had a second job running a bed and breakfast at home.

And she served on several boards of directors.

And she was beginning to date again.

Can you feel the stress and tension?

No wonder she had not yet achieved a promotion to senior vice president.

As Susan and I “drilled down” with the help of open-ended questions, we arrived at the core problem: Susan could not say no.

This, too, is typical: many business people have trouble delegating their authority. They have high standards; they expect perfection; and they don’t believe others can possibly achieve those high standards. So they do it all themselves.

Susan didn’t even delegate to her own assistant. Like many executives, she didn’t allow her administrative assistant to handle half the tasks she was capable of doing – a waste of human potential. This is so common in business today. Most executives under-use their assistants, to their own detriment. And they miss the opportunity to help their assistants develop their skills and feel more engaged in their work.

So I proceeded to help Susan learn to say no: to doing it all herself; to taking on other people’s problems; to agreeing to serve on every board when asked; to doing all the housework herself. We set up timelines for resigning from two boards; we set up work schedules for the kids living at her house; we identified tasks she could reasonably ask her assistant to do.

You may be thinking, “I’m not equipped to solve people’s personal problems!” Yet all of these solutions emerged through questioning. I wouldn’t have known how to “fix” any of these problems myself. But you’ll be amazed, as I have been, that when you keep asking questions such as, “What’s in the way?” and “What next step could you take?” people find their own solutions. That’s the power of open-ended questions. They already know the answers, in many cases; they just haven’t been listening to their own inner wisdom. The role of the managing partner, often, is to ask enough questions that people finally begin to listen to themselves.

Oh, and Susan? She made senior vice president within nine months of us starting our work together. And though she still has a heavy professional and personal schedule to manage, she now has time to take in the view through the windows of her beautiful new office.

Learning how to help your people help themselves is just one part of my proven accountability system. Do you want immediate access to more accountability strategies that will make a dramatic difference to your bottom line? Download my free report, “Stepping Up to the Plate” at