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.”
We live in a fast-paced, demanding, results-oriented world. New technologies place vast quantities of information at our fingertips in nanoseconds. We want problems solved instantly, results yesterday, answers immediately. We are exhorted to forget “ready, aim, fire” and to shoot now and shoot again. Leaders are expected to be decisive, bold, charismatic, and visionary—to know all the answers even before others have thought of the questions.
Ironically, if we respond to these pressures—or believe the hype about visionary leaders so prominent in the business press—we risk sacrificing the very thing we need to lead effectively. When the people around us clamor for fast answers—sometimes any answer—we need to be able to resist the impulse to provide solutions and learn instead to ask questions. Most leaders are unaware of the amazing power of questions, how they can generate short-term results and long-term learning and success. The problem is that we feel that we are supposed to have answers, not questions.
Over the past 35 years, we have interviewed leaders around the world about their use—or avoidance—of questions. This comment by Gidget Hopf, president and CEO of Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired—Goodwill Industries, is typical: “I just automatically assumed that if someone was at my door with a problem, they expected me to solve it.”
Hopf thought it was her job to provide answers. Then she realized that there was another more effective way: “Through coaching I realized how disempowering this is, and how much more effective I could be by posing the question back to the individual with the problem. . . . What I came to realize is that solving others’ problems is exhausting. It is much more effective to provide the opportunity for them to solve their own problems.”
History is replete with tales of dire consequences experienced by leaders who did not ask questions. Disasters at companies such as Lehman Brothers, Kodak, Barclays, Blockbuster, Enron, Borders and Arthur Anderson can be attributed to the lack of inquiring leaders. Historians who carefully examined the events and details behind the disasters of the Titanic, the Challenger, and the Bay of Pigs have determined a common thread—the inability or unwillingness of participants and leaders to raise questions about their concerns. Some group members were fearful that they were the only one who had a particular concern (when, in fact, it was later discovered that many people in the group had similar concerns). Others felt that their question had already been answered in the minds of other group members, and if they asked the question, it would be considered a dumb question; and they would be put down as being stupid or not going along with the group. Because people did not ask questions, people lost lives when the Titanic sank, when the Challenger crashed, when President Kennedy authorized a covert attack on the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.
No company can become great, Jim Collins tells us in Good to Great, without the ability to confront the brutal facts of reality, and to ask questions.
GE’s former CEO Jack Welch says, leading successfully means, “seeing the world the way it is, not the way we hope it will be or wish it to be.
Organizations and leaders that avoid questions are actually losing opportunities to learn, according to Noel Tichy. By telling rather than asking, Tichy says, they are actually making their organizations dumber, “less smart, less aligned, and less energized every day.”
Mike Parker, president and CEO of Dow Chemical, notes, “a lot of bad leadership comes from an inability or unwillingness to ask questions.
Many years ago, in his best-selling classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie noted that “an effective leader asks questions instead of giving orders.” Oakley and Krug call questions the “ultimate empowerment tool” for the leader. They observe that the better we as leaders become at asking effective questions and listening for the answers to those questions, the more consistently we and the people with whom we work can accomplish mutually satisfying objectives, be empowered, reduce resistance, and create a willingness to pursue innovative change.
Peter Drucker found that effective executives all tended to do the following:
• They asked, “What needs to be done?”
• They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
• They developed action plans.
• They took responsibility for decisions.
• They took responsibility for communicating.
• They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
• They ran productive meetings.
• They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
• They listened first, spoke last!
Questions are at the heart of each of these practices.
As Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni note, a leader does not have to have all the answers, but what is not negotiable is not being willing or able to ask questions. The ability to ask questions effectively is one of a leader’s most important tools. Donald Peterson, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, once remarked, “Asking more of the right questions reduces the need to have all the answers.”
Google recently conducted a research survey of over 80,000 managers, called Project Oxygen, to determine what makes the most effective leaders great leaders. In this study, they identified 10 traits that were most common among the most effective leaders – the number one trait – asking questions and listening.
Asking rather than telling, questions rather than answers, has become the key to leadership excellence and success in the twenty-first century. Peter Drucker, considered the leadership guru of the twentieth century and still going strong, notes that the leader of the past may have been a person who knew how to tell, but certainly the leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.
Contrary to much received wisdom, effective leaders do not have all the answers. Instead, effective leaders make it a practice to ask questions. One of the best things you can do to strengthen your leadership is to ask questions. Another is to encourage others to ask questions.
When we learn to ask questions, and do so effectively, our questions can transform individuals, groups, and organizations. How this is so is the topic of the next chapter, which explains the many dividends that a question-friendly organizational culture pays.
1. How can I use questions to be a more effective leader?
2. What problems have I created because I did not ask questions?
3. What are some of the great questions I have asked others?
4. What great questions have I been asked in my lifetime?
5. Am I able to say “I don’t know?”
6. From whom do I ask questions and why?
7. What questions can I ask to help the people around me to learn?
8. How can questions build a great organization?
9. Have I encouraged others around me to ask questions?
10. How can I improve my skills in asking questions?
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.
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”
Today: “A Powerful But Underused Leadership Tool”
Click HERE to read Thursday’s Post: “Benefits of a Question Culture”
Click HERE to read Friday’s Post: “Asking the Right Questions.”
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