Smart Questions

My “timeout” chair in my boss’s office

I know when I ask a smart question.

And I also know when I ask a dumb question.

When my current company hired me at the mature age of 17, all my questions were smart. But that was for a couple reasons.

Reason #1 was because I was working for a former teacher, and he still loved teaching.

Reason #2 was because I was the “baby” of the company and brand-new to how a multimillion dollar construction company operated internally. I was working in data management and without asking, there was no way of understanding why the system worked the way it did.

But that was 6 incredible years ago.

I’m no longer “Assistant Documents Manager”. I have moved up and on the world (insert mild sarcasm). My promotion to project management came at the experienced age of 19.

My new boss is ridiculously and scarily brilliant. But he’s no former teacher. I can literally count on one hand the times he’s been wrong in all the years I’ve worked for him. I’ve sometimes felt bad for those foolish enough to pick a fight with him on one of his projects. When he’s pissed, his brilliance, sarcasm, and reasoning skills reach new heights.

But I’m not here to brag about my boss, I’m here to brag about me and my smart questions.

Construction can sometimes become very complicated because you mix contracts, specifications, and construction methods all together AND try to safely make a profit.

I like handling my projects with little oversight from my boss, and he respects me for that. The agreement between my boss and I, is that I get all the free rein I want on my projects, but I also have to take whatever beatings are associated with any mistakes.

It’s a fair trade for me.

So I really try to avoid constantly peppering my boss with questions unless I’ve thought long and hard about the problem and don’t like my solutions.

I know when I ask my boss a smart question. He takes his eyes of his computer, turns sideways in his chair, and rubs his balding head.

It’s also easy to find out when a question is dumb.

The other day I walked into my boss’s office and started asking him a question…then stopped mid-sentence. “Never mind, it’s a dumb question” I said. He grinned at me and asked, “You just realized that?”

I retreated to my desk.

A couple seconds later, my boss called out, “Hey Elijah, can you come here for a second?” I walked over stood in his office doorway.

“You do know, that just because you think you question is smart, doesn’t mean that it actually is smart?”

He grinned (again). Amused at his wit and he added “Just thought I’d let you know that”.

“Thank you” I replied. Feeling reckless, I remarked, “I knew there had to be at least one more thing you could teach me”.

There was a split-second of silence, during which I mentally listed the companies I’d call for a job when my boss finished firing me.

Then he just started laughing. “You know Elijah, you’re starting to become like me, and that’s scary”.

Pushing my luck I replied, “That’s the nicest thing you ever said to me. Can I get that in writing?”

“No, but you can get out of my office.”

He’s by no means a complimenter. You do your best all the time – he expects no less. Yet, we both knew that he had just complimented me in his own Irish way.

I like my boss.


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