Power of Questions

August 20th, 2012 | Coaching

Special Note:  In 2006 I was browsing in a (now closed) Borders Bookstore and came across Leading With Questions by Michael Marquardt. I only had to peruse a few pages before declaring to myself, “This is a Keeper!” This book changed forever how I lead! Recently I have had the privilege of interacting with Mike and he graciously agreed to do several guest blogs and has given me his “cart-blanch” permission to excerpt from Leading With Questions in future posts! Thank You Mike!

Guest Post by Michael Marquardt

Questions can elicit information, of course, but they can do much more. Great leaders use questions to encourage full participation and teamwork, to spur innovation and out-of-the box thinking, to empower others, to build relationships with customers, to solve problems, and to change culture. Questions wake people up. They prompt new ideas. They show people new places, new ways of doing things. They help us become more confident communicators. Most successful leaders use questions frequently.

There are two types of mindsets that may reside in the questioner: the learner and the judge.

In the learner mindset, the questioner seeks to be responsive to circumstances. Thus, she is more likely to think objectively and strategically. The learner mindset seeks and creates solutions, and relates to others in a win-win manner. Leaders with a learning mindset tend to be more optimistic and presuppose new possibilities, a hopeful future, and sufficient resources. They exude optimism, possibilities and hope. They are thoughtful, flexible and accepting. Their relationships operate in a collaborative and innovative mode. They encourage workers to be more flexible, more open to new possibilities, and less attached to their opinions and the need to be right. Such leaders seek to strengthen people’s ability to be conscious of their choices and responsible for their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and outcomes.

The judge mindset is reactive. It leads to over-emotional thinking and behavior. Leaders with the judging mindset tend to be more automatic and absolute in their actions; they emphasize negativity, pessimism, stress, and limited possibilities. The focus is more on problems than on solutions. Judging questions are inflexible and judgmental. For the judger, questions are more likely to be reactive to the situation, and thereby lead to automatic reactions, limitations, and negativity. Judging questions result in win-lose relating as they all too often operate in an “attack or defend” paradigm. Such questioners often deny self-responsibility and search for other people or circumstances for blame. Leaders with the judging mentality believe they know the answers already anyway,

Despite the evidence questioning is a critical competency of a leader, few leaders practice the art of asking questions for three main reasons:

  1. Negative experience with asking or answering questions that has generated a fear and discomfort with inquiry
  2. Lack of skills in asking or answering questions based upon lack of experience and opportunity, lack of training, and limited or no models
  3. Cultures that discourage questions, especially those that challenge existing assumptions and policies.

Michael J. Marquardt is the President, World Institute for Action Learning and a Professor at George Washington University. Mike is the author of 20 books and over 100 professional articles in the fields of leadership, learning, globalization and organizational change including Action Learning for Developing Leaders and Organizations and Leading with Questions.


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