Leadership is not as much about
knowing the right answers as it is about asking
the right questions!
-Bob Tiede

Guest Post by Diana Kawarsky

You’re a new hire in financial services, maybe an Analyst or Associate who hasn’t been out of school very long. In school, you were expected to learn and then were vigorously tested on having not only answers to your professors’ questions but the correct answers — often. Or you’re a manager (and also an aspiring leader) in the workforce with a handful of years of iterative experience and a track record that positions you for potentially more in scale and or scope to your work in the future. You’ve had feedback and perhaps even a comprehensive performance evaluation (or a few) to align your thoughts on your need to have the answers — all the answers ­ — all the time. Or maybe you’re a seasoned leader with senior-level authority and decision-making opportunities with teams or departments who report to you, maybe a full portfolio of sorts. You have eyes on you to be a learned professional and a solution-provider that is brought to your attention by your (supportive/envious?) colleagues and your immediate leadership team.

I coach clients in each of these scenarios — A LOT. It is in increasing your crafting and using of questions while decreasing your focus on providing solutions where I habitually observe my clients making the most measurable and scalable impacts in their relationships and their output. Focusing on answers lends itself to a singularity of focus, can deter innovative approaches, create a vacuum of thought, facilitate the disqualification of synchronous work such as meetings (what a frustration!), and often is stifling to both creative thinking and the validation of speaking up whatsoever on-the-job.

By contrast, adopting a questions-focus limits decision-making being off-track, as well as challenging the biases of a sole perspective potentially (often inadvertently) taking over. This questions-focus decentralizes the conversation along any lines of authority or exclusive experience and concentrates the problem-solving process on actual problems limiting the impact of distractions of the symptoms of a problem.

Focusing on your questions:

  • Increases diversity of thought
  • Encourages multidisciplinary perspectives
  • Speaks to inclusivity of ideation
  • Encourages a psychologically safer culture
  • Invites divergent thoughts
  • Encourages creativity
  • Brings people into mutually shared meaning-making
  • Moves conversations forward linearly
  • Makes people feel heard

When we feel heard, we get a jolt of neurochemical jolt of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins that make us feel good. When we feel good, we tend to access our more comprehensive thinking, participate more actively, and be more collaborative and productive on the job.

Here are 30 questions that will make a difference:

10 For the New Hire:

Questions are your way to clarify the expectations that others have of you as a new hire. This approach is a key information-mining conversation technique where you are literally setting yourself up for success even if you have less than perfect leaders. (And who is perfect after all?)

1. What would you do right now or next if you were in my position?

2. Am I understanding the result you are looking for?

3. Can we further discuss the tactical side of how I am going to do this project?

4. What is the strategic alignment of this project? Please help me better grasp how it fits with the mandate.

5. Am I missing anything? Is there something that needs to be on my radar?

6. Are we in synch with the next step? Expectations? Roles?

7. What ways can we define feedback between us?

8. What do we definitely want to avoid?

9. What is the cadence of providing follow-up that makes the most sense here?

10. Is there anything else I should know?

10 For the Manager:

Questions are your way to how managers can create and perpetuate rapport with their staff while simultaneously validating their credibility. Your interest and curiosity in not only the product of a work task but also the process can differentiate you from other managers as one who can champion their people and represent them well.

1. Where do you/we need help/support? How may I help/support?

2. How can we communicate better?

3. What skills can our team improve? Training and learning ideas?

4. How may I provide you with more clarity or be of further service to you?

5. What are we missing?

6. What did we learn/take away from this for next time?

7. What do we need more or less of — resources? Time? Skills?

8. What/if anything can we put in place as a new process or procedure?

9. What are the implications of not being successful for you/me/team organization?

10. What is the problem we are solving/ Is it the right problem?

10 For the Leader:

Questions are your secret advantage- shhhhhh — I won’t tell if you don’t. By planning, crafting, and asking thoughtful questions in your interactions with staff, you are creating the social space necessary for you to lead by developing leaders. Questions empower others to speculate, rationalize and explain when they may not have recognized that, such as space was available in their relationship with you. Be intentional here; the yield is high in the rapport and impact you will create in the psychological safety of your workplace.

1. Is our goal/objective/mission/purpose clear enough?

2. How can we be [more] accountable for this?

3. Are we in alignment with the goal/objective/mission/purpose?

4. What does our success look like?

5. What is holding us/this back?

6. What are the obstacles/resistance we can anticipate?

7. What would happen if we did nothing whatsoever?

8. Who else should be in this conversation? Why?

9. Do we have any unspoken assumptions that we should bring to the surface?

10. Are we open to newness or relying on patterns?

Use these questions. Generate your own questions. Keep these questions and refer to them when preparing for the next conversation or meeting. They may not come to mind without practice. And with practice, in that moment when you are thinking/speaking on your feet, it can be tough, even for the best of us, so create a reference resource for yourself.

Make a difference by asking questions — start here and now.

Diana Kawarsky

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Diana Kawarsky is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc. an on-the-job learning boutique firm based in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada. She is a senior training & development professional with over 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia.

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