Do You Want Good Answers or Good Questions?

With one simple exchange, I learned a valuable life lesson. The best way to be a successful, trusted advisor is to stop trying to give answers and start asking good questions.

It was January, 2007, and I was sitting in the historic Royal Sonesta Hotel’s meeting room on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Not one, but two of my favourite mentors were in that room. Rick Solomon was launching a new innovative program that would end up literally changing my life. This day was the first meeting on that amazing two-year journey with Rick. Another mentor, Michael D. was a participant along with myself and eight others. Michael D. had a big decision to make, and the rest of the group of advisors was attempting to help him.

What I learned that day from Rick was how one simple good question was so much better than any of the other suggested answers!

Michael D. was a very successful CPA partner and trusted advisor in a large Toronto firm. He figured he had about ten years of working life ahead of him. He was struggling with the choice between a future “lifestyle” business model or a scalable model.  With the lifestyle model, he could handpick and deliver his personal time and attention to a select group of clients who valued his considerable expertise. For the more scalable model, he would need to hire and build a team of younger advisors to mentor and leverage across a wider client base. Each option had unique but different benefits.

Rick led the discussion by first asking each of us what advice we would give Michael. Each of us gave Michael our best advice – which for every one of us meant telling him what we thought he should do. In other words, we all tried to give him the answer.

Then Rick showed us all the magic of a good question:

Rick: “Michael, if you had to decide in the next 10 seconds, which option would you choose?”

Michael (in less than 10 seconds): “Lifestyle.”

With that simple exchange, I learned a valuable life lesson. The best way to be a successful, trusted advisor is to stop trying to give answers and start asking good questions.

I realized there is a little bit of ego attached to trying to give someone the right answer. When you can let go of that ego attachment and just ask really good questions, you can be of much greater service to your clients. The added bonus for us is that you no longer have to actually  know all the answers! (Which is so much better, especially since we actually don’t know all the answers anyway!)

It has been over 10 years since that exchange and I am happy to report Michael’s lifestyle has, and continues to be, great ever since that day!

What’s interesting today, is I am now looking at about 10 more useful years of work ahead of me and my advisory practice. A year or so ago I struggled with that same decision. The pandemic created an opportunity that I just couldn’t ignore. I decided last summer to build my business for scale. Our team is growing and the virtual advisory products are in development. Thanks to the forced behavior change of moving to the virtual world, the opportunity to create a virtual and scalable advisory firm is clearly upon us. And with the struggles and opportunities in front of all independent businesses, I feel it is our duty to share what we can offer in the most efficient and scalable way possible.

We know the power of asking good questions. But does everyone have to be sitting face to face in New Orleans in order to facilitate good decision making? I don’t think so. Trust me; I hope we can offer face to face interaction again as part of our business model! But the pandemic has pushed us into proving we can also connect virtually. In fact, some clients tell me they like it better!

By the way, I have used the “10-second question” tool over and over with considerable success ever since that big epiphany. So if you might be looking for the answer to one of your business decisions, why not reach out? Maybe we can help you find the answer in 10 seconds or less!

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