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It Starts with a Question

This past Saturday, I was presenting my Power of CARE training to a group of parent leaders. While we were discussing the "Choices" section, I told them about my philosophy of acting when things were less critical; when one has more time to respond in a proactive manner, not reacting when things get critical. It boils down to being a great manager of change, to recognize when things change. to be aware when those who have regulatory or other controls over you and your output have you in their sites. Here is a past article that explains this.

Whether it is strategic planning and change management within an organization, or navigating one’s own career path, success comes when you can “see the hand-writing on the wall” and accurately forecast the changes and challenges ahead, preparing for them before things become urgent or critical.

When I was a Head Start Director, and I was leading my team collectively and by service area, I once gave my team three simple statements to remember:

It starts with a question.

Then it becomes a suggestion.

And then it becomes a mandate.

I still use these in my work as a trainer.


The context for this was how we noticed that in the annual Program Information Report (PIR), a requirement of all Head Start Programs where they give the federal government statistics on almost every facet of the program, the Feds had started asking questions about the education and credentials of key staff, first the teachers and then the family services staff.

I recognized this for what it was; a first step toward greater requirements, and advised the staff to prepare.

You see, as professional salespersons will tell you, questions mean interest. That's why sales people like when you ask questions. It means you are at least engaged enough to want more information. And when someone asks very pointed and detailed questions, you know they are really interested.

When the entity or person who is asking questions is a regulating body, your boss, a funder or your customers; you had better pay attention. This is because, if they remain interested, the next step is: Making a Suggestion.


In my Head Start example, after the Feds got their data and had a clear view of the average education levels of the teachers and family services staff nationwide, they started suggesting that grantees develop programs to increase the education and credentials of staff.

During the “suggestion” phase for the family services staff, I advised those who wished to have a career in Head Start, that they should start preparing for the next phase – mandated credentials – by developing their own education plan.

You see, it is the foolish person who only begins to build shelter or look for an umbrella after it starts raining. The smart person recognizes the clouds in the sky and says, “Hey, it just might rain. If I don’t want to get wet, maybe I should do something about that.”

Customers asking question and making suggestions

This is more obvious when the suggestions are being made by someone who has regulatory control over you, like the Feds and Head Start Programs, but it is just as important when it comes to your customers.

The business world is littered with the examples of companies who failed to listen to the questions their customers were asking; were further deaf to the suggestions their customers made to illicit change and maintain the relationship; and ultimately, came to a tragic end when the customers finally mandated improvement and the companies had waited too long to change. Their customers moved on to other companies who were more adaptable and compliant to the changing needs and wants of the consumer.


While the family services staff were in the suggestion phase, the teachers were already in the mandate phase. Nationwide, it was the goal of Head Start to increase the credentials of our teaching staff and this meant mandated minimum education requirements based on the job title and role of each teaching position, and percentage goals for programs for how many of their staff met the new expectations.

Those who did not have the mandatory education or credentials, were given a set amount of time to become compliant or face demotion or the loss of their job. Programs who did not meet their goals were sanctioned.

You can get rainier than that.

There were those who were victims of the change. Even programs who were successful in raising the education levels of the teachers paid a price.

Having the requirement of greater credentials, but not the funding to offer higher salaries, meant many programs lost now highly qualified staff to higher paying jobs in the school districts or private child care and education centers. That led to a need to re-frame how we saw our role as quality improvement change makers in the Early Childhood Education community; but that’s a subject for another article.

It starts with a question.

Then it becomes a suggestion.

And then it becomes a mandate.

So, what are the questions you are hearing? Have you been receptive and responsive to the suggestions that are being made? Are you missing any mandates for change?

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