Excerpted with the permission of the author from Chapter Two of the Revised and Updated – “Leading with Questions”
When we ask questions of others and invite them to search for answers with us, we are not just sharing information; we are also 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.
Leading with questions gives the opportunity for the subordinates to be more active. To be active, they need to learn the skill of self-leadership. Through questions, they will also take more responsibility and be more motivated and committed. People like the feeling that they have found the answer themselves. Leading with questions means that there is an atmosphere where you can challenge everything; questions create an open communications culture. Leading with questions for me personally has meant more freedom as a boss.
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner emphasize the importance of leaders’ engaging people throughout the organization in what they do and why they do it. They ask us to imagine how much more ownership of the values of the organization there would be when leaders actively involve a wide range of people in their development. “Shared values,” they note, “are the result of listening , appreciating, building consensus and practicing conflict resolution. For people to understand the values and come to agree with them, they must participate in the process. Unity is forged, not forced.”
Questions asked by leaders transform the organization , as they can evoke the images of what employees hope to create, and of the values and behaviors desired by their people. Leaders show, through the power of their questions and the words chosen within those questions, the means as well as the metaphors for organizational vision, values, attitudes, behaviors , structures, and concepts.
A questioning culture has six hallmarks
When an organization has a questioning culture, the people in it:
- Are willing to admit, “I don’t know.”
- Go beyond allowing questions; they encourage questions.
- Are helped to develop the skills needed to ask questions in a positive way.
- Focus on asking empowering questions and avoid disempowering questions.
- Emphasize the process of asking questions and searching for answers rather than finding the “right” answers.
- Accept and reward risk taking.
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. www.wial.org