Celebrating the 11th Anniversary of LeadingWithQuestions.com

The 3rd Edition of “Leading With Questions” Released This Week!

Will you please click HERE to order yours today, because you do not want to miss out on the opportunity to increase your Leadership Effectiveness x10?

All this week we are celebrating the 11th Anniversary of LeadingWithQuestions.com by sharing “Excerpts” from the just released 3rd Edition of “Leading With Questions.”

From Chapter Two: “Benefits of a Questioning Culture”

We have all heard sayings like these:

Go along to get along.

Don’t rock the boat.

They’re not paying me enough to think.

If these and similar comments are commonplace around your organization, it is safe to say that your organization does not have a questioning culture. In organizations that discourage questions, information is usually hoarded, people keep their heads down and stick to their knitting, and few people are willing to take any risks. In answer-driven organizations, curiosity, risk taking, challenging the status quo, and even the willingness to be wrong takes a back seat. (1) The prevailing culture of such organizations, either implicitly or explicitly, calls for rigidity, risk avoidance, protectiveness, defensiveness, and automatic routines and habits. These organizations usually suffer from low morale, poor teamwork, and poor leadership. They become fossilized, even moribund.

Questions also build a culture of accountability. They can foster commitment without barter and sustain the corporate community through civic engagement. Jack Welch, in his book Winning, states that leaders must be the ones who indeed ask the most and the best questions.

What Is a Questioning Culture?

When we ask questions of others and invite them to search for answers with us, we are not just sharing information, we are sharing responsibility. A questioning culture is a culture in which responsibility is shared. And when responsibility is shared, ideas are shared, problems are shared (problems are not yours or mine, but ours), and ownership of results is shared. When an organization develops a questioning culture, it also creates a culture of we, rather than a culture of you versus me, or management versus employees.

A Questioning Culture Has Six Hallmarks

When an organization has a questioning culture, the people in it:

  1. Are willing to admit, “I don’t know.”
  2. Go beyond allowing questions; they encourage questions.
  3. Are helped to develop the skills needed to ask questions in a positive way.
  4. Focus on asking empowering questions and avoid disempowering questions.
  5. Emphasize the process of asking questions and searching for answers rather than finding the “right” answers.
  6. Accept and reward risk taking

Organizational Benefits of a Questioning Culture

Questions serve as the foundation for increasing individual, team, and organizational learning. Every question can be a potential learning opportunity. As a matter of fact, deep and significant learning occurs only as a result of reflection, and reflection is not possible without a question—whether the question be from an external or internal source. A culture that encourages questions therefore is a culture that encourages learning. As Adams notes, “question-driven cultures have the capacity to respond swiftly and effectively to problems inside the organization while staying ahead of the curve in planning for external challenges and opportunities.” Organizations that ask questions will be more dynamic, agile collaborative and creative.

Learning depends upon curiosity and asking questions. The experience of curiosity is equivalent to continuously living and operating out of a question frame as simple as “what’s this?” as all children do. It is through questions that we operationalize curiosity into behavior, and as a result they are the foundation of any kind of learning, be it formal, informal, or personal. Questions, especially challenging ones, cause us to think and to learn.

Marilee Adams observes that the “smartest, most innovative and productive organizations, and the most talented leaders and managers, are successful not because they have quick answers but because they create inquiring cultures. Such environments are highly thoughtful and strategic, fostering the most innovations and breakthroughs in products, services, and even operations.” (8)

Vance Coffman, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, comments that he built a learning organization by asking questions. “Great questions are good fuel for fostering curiosity. Great questions guide my search for common sense explanations of a situation.” When asked, what critical questions should a new senior executive at Lockheed Martin ask, he replied: Why is this the way it is? Do we understand why we got there?”

Improved Decision Making and Problem Solving

Organizations that encourage leaders at all levels to take the time to ask thoughtful and probing questions improve the odds of making good decisions. When you talk to the people closest to the problem, you can gather more relevant information, gain a better perspective, and be able to act more confidently than if you relied solely on your own resources, opinions, and perceptions.  As Bobb Biehl, President of Masterplanning Group International told us, “If you ask profound questions … you get profound answers. If you ask shallow questions. you get shallow answers. If you ask no questions, you get no answers as all.”

Mark Harper of ConocoPhillips points to another benefit of a questioning culture. It helps create “a higher level of trust that dialogue and debate will occur before major decisions are made.” As a result, he says, people feel included in the process and “there is more of a commitment to execution when changes have to be implemented.”

Greater Adaptability and Acceptance of Organizational Change

Change brings new ideas, new ways of doing things to the organization. Change and new ideas are often rejected in organizations without a questioning culture because they might conflict with existing, established mental models or ways of doing things, which have never been questioned. When questions are rare, those promoting new ideas have the task of confronting these existing assumptions without invoking defensiveness or anger. This is difficult to do in organizations where the prevailing culture discourages questions. Their questions, no matter how gently phrased, stand out and seem disruptive because questions are so rare. When an organization develops a questioning culture, however, questions cease to be unusual, cease to be threatening. This makes it easier for even difficult and challenging questions to be addressed—and for the organization to adapt to change.

Great questions cause the questioner to become more aware of the need for change, and to be more open and willing to change. The questions themselves may actually cause the leader to become a change catalyst. The leader who leads with questions will more likely champion new ideas heard and developed in the inquiry. New ideas and perspectives enable the leader to make strong arguments for advocating change.

Motivating and Empowering Employees

Good questions energize people. And a questioning culture can energize an entire organization. Margaret Wheatley notes how questions and the resulting reflection nourish people and develop internal motivation.  Questions create the conditions that foster openness and release energy. People are energized when they are questioned, because they have been asked for their ideas.

Ken Blanchard remarks that too many leaders try to make people feel unimportant. The important thing about leadership is not what happens when you’re there but what happens when you are not there.  Leaders who promote a questioning culture in their organizations move people from dependence to independence. Blanchard notes that great questions equip people so that positive things happen when you are not there. Questions create a supportive, creative environment. By asking questions, leaders help people discover for themselves what is important for them in doing what is necessary for the organization. This discovery process improves their self-confidence and self-esteem, empowering them in the process. Concurrently, they take ownership of the solution because they have participated in developing it.

Good questions empower people to devise their own solutions. When people discover their own answers, they develop self-responsibility and accept ownership of the results. Asking people questions shows them that you value them. Questions move people from dependence to independence.

Enhanced Innovation

Creativity requires asking questions for which an answer is not already known. The truth is that innovation is rarely the product of pure inspiration, that “Eureka!” moment when some genius comes up with a wholly new idea. Rather, innovation happens when people see things differently. It starts with a questioning culture that helps people gain new perspective and see things differently. Innovation is generated by great questions in an environment that encourages questions.

Better Listening and Communication

Julie Giulioni told us that questions are wonderful to “create connections, contest, insights, understanding and energy. If leaders could choose just one super-power, I would recommend cultivating the ability to ask great, meaty, engaging, thought-provoking questions.” Dina Dwyer-Owens, Brand Ambassador for Neighborly, emphasizes that when employees feel they are heard and that their opinions count for something, it will have a significant impact on things like employee retention, productivity, and customer satisfaction. These things have been shown to create an average gain in productivity of six percent. Employees are people, not commodities. When leaders listen first, they humble themselves as servants and people begin to feel like valued equals.

Stronger Commitment to Learn and Develop

A recent Harvard University study found the simple act of asking questions is one of the most important aspects of trusted and open relationships, higher emotional intelligence, and learning. (23) Questions not only demonstrate a greater commitment to developing others, they make you more adept at cultivating others’ abilities as well as your own. Leaders who ask questions develop their emotional intelligence through questions. Questioning leaders thus improve their ability to teach, mentor, and coach.

Stronger Leadership

Jim Collins, in his best-selling classic, Good to Great, reports his discovery that leaders of great companies are both very humble and very persistent. (25) In his description of “Level 5 leaders,” he observes that the successful leaders of the companies he studied recognized that the title of leader does not make one a source of all wisdom. Great leaders are humbled by the realization of all they do not know. They know that asking questions of a few will not give enough data; to succeed they must make asking questions of anyone and everyone their top priority.

Looking Ahead

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, told us that “great questions are a much better indicator of future success than great answers.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. What is a questioning culture?
  2. What are the benefits of a questioning culture?
  3. How can I create a questioning culture?
  4. What are some strategies and actions I can take to build a culture in which questions are welcomed, assumptions are challenged, and new ways to solve problems are explored?
  5. How can I build trust, enthusiasm and commitment through questions?
  6. What questions can I use to empower my colleagues and employees?
  7. How can I use questions to build greater self-awareness and self-confidence in myself and in others?
  8. What are some ways that I can demonstrate openness and flexibility with questions?
  9. How can I become a better communicator and listener through the use of questions?
  10. How can I more effectively handle conflicts with questions?

We are thrilled that the 3rd Edition of “Leading With Questions” is currently the #1 New Release in Business Communication on Amazon: 

Will you please click HERE to order your “Leading With Questions” book today, because you do not want to miss out on the opportunity to increase your Leadership Effectiveness x10?

Special Offer:  If you purchase 20 or more books, Dr. Marquardt or I will be delighted to do a free 45 minute Zoom Webinar for your staff!  Simply forward your receipt to me at bob.tiede@cru.org

FYI, instead of personally receiving any royalties from the sales of the 3rd Edition – I have designated all my royalties to go towards Cru’s Leadership Development Programs that I am a part of.

Special Invitation:

You are invited to join Dr. Michael Marquardt and myself for a live webinar on May 2, 2023 at 12 noon Eastern, (11 am Central, 10 am Mountain & 9 am Pacific)   Click HERE to Register! Everyone who registers will be sent a link to the recorded webinar!

 All this week we are  Celebrating  the 11th Anniversary as we share “Excerpts” from the 3rd Edition of  “Leading With Questions!”

Click HERE to read Monday’s Post: “Would you like to hear the Story that lead to my co-authoring the 3rd Edition?”

Click HERE to read Tuesday’s Post: “Introduction to the Third Edition”

Click HERE to read Wednesday’s Post: “A Powerful But Underused Leadership Tool”

Today:  “Benefits of a Question Culture”

Click HERE to read Friday’s Post: “Asking the Right Questions.”

Michael Marquardt & Bob Tiede

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Marquardt is Professor Emeritus of Organizational Learning and Leadership at George Washington University. He is a Co-founder and was the first President for the World Institute of Action Learning.
Dr. Marquardt is the author of 27 books and over 100 professional articles on Global Human Resource Development, Leadership, Team Building and Organizational Change.
Bob Tiede is on the U.S. Leadership Development Team at Cru, an interdenominational Christian parachurch organization. His blog, LeadingWithQuestions is in its 11th year and followed by Leaders in over 190 countries.  Bob is the author of 5 very popular books, including  “Great Leaders ASK Questions” & “Now That’s a Great Question.”

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