I recently e-mailed 22 incredible leaders that I am privileged to call my friends to ask them to share in a few sentences the value of questions in their life and leadership:
Questions give me the right information to make an intelligent decision and the context in order to make a wise decision.
Whenever I talk with someone I am alert to how God might be specifically working in their life at that time. Asking the right questions opens up people’s hearts and souls so I can glimpse inside and identify, and then join, God’s activity.
Questions are the currency of dialogue. They create connections, context, insights, understanding, and energy. If leaders could choose just one super-power, I’d recommend cultivating the ability to ask great, meaty, engaging, thought-provoking questions.
“The right question means everything because it leads you to the right answer. Life is too short to ask the wrong questions.”
One of my newer learnings about the value of good questions is that a well-stated response question disarms a “gotcha” question. Just today I received an email with an “Is there a reason why….?”question that shouted “I want to pick a fight.” I have learned that answering that type of question with a statement usually fuels the fire and starts an email war. After using my “wait 24-minutes to respond” rule I framed a response question starting with “How” that served as a calming influence and facilitated a face to face conversation. I find value using well-formed, open-ended questions in just about every situation.
I’ve never learned a thing while I was talking. However, I have learned much from asking questions and listening.
Being insatiably curious—about other people, about ideas, about what’s working and what isn’t, and why—is a big part of who I am as someone who runs an organization but also just as a person. Asking questions is kind of like breathing.
Greatness happens when you ask. You build alignment, engagement and accountability. The first step is simple ask, don’t tell. The difficult part is refining your questions to the right ones, the ones without easy answers. And secondly listening deeply and generatively while letting go of your own answers.
Why questions? Questions inspire change. Questions shift thinking. Questions facilitate innovation, creativity and growth. Questions make space for answers that solve for the right direction.
“Questions play a significant role in my leadership. They enable me to empathize, understand and diagnose, which enables me to be a more effective leader, coach and friend. Not to mention, they help me learn and grow myself.”
Questions are like the hood release latch on my car. I use it to get under the hood of things to get a view of how things are running.
The main reason I had such a successful career without a college degree is that I have a lot of curiosity. As one of my bosses told me many years ago, “Lee, if you don’t know something or don’t understand something, ask questions. You can be a fool once or a fool all your life.” When I ask questions I make far less bad decisions. When I speak it is knowledge I already have. When I ask questions and listen I gain knowledge I did not have. This is powerful. With Google and asking questions nobody has any excuse for not getting smarter and getting smarter faster. Asking questions and gaining new knowledge builds self-esteem, self-confidence and helps me believe in myself.
Questioning and then listening deeply to the answer is the most important pivot point in my life and leadership. It is central to fulfilling the promise of our company, the Goulston Group, when we say, “We create ‘gotta have it!'” What that means is we help companies put themselves completely (and we mean completely) in their customer’s shoes and then help them ask and answer the question, “What would your customer need to see, hear, read, think and feel that would cause them to go, “I gotta have it?” Why? Because when you create “gotta have it,” you don’t have to persuade, convince or sell, you just take sales orders (picture all the customers lined up around the block of an Apple Store when a new product becomes available and what they’re thinking, i.e. “I gotta have it!”). Furthermore, in our attention span challenged times, if you don’t create “gotta have it!” you’re creating, “Nah, never mind, pass.”
– Founder and Co-CEO of the and author of “Just Listen”
Asking questions is valuable because it:
The value of questions is seen in their ability to interrupt and disrupt. Without questions, the past is the future. Recently, I was interrupted, for a few moments, when someone asked, “What are you learning about traveling and speaking?” I’d been busy and hadn’t reflected on recent experiences. The question interrupted my bias toward action. Disruptions slow us down and provide opportunity to learn from mistakes, elevate performance, and find confidence to repeat what works. Questions create space where people grow.
Inquiry is the path to learning — and continuous learning is essential to leadership. Questions help me gain understanding of a situation. They help me find a place of empathy with people. They help me teach by challenging the thinking of others. They help me listen before I speak. All of which leads to better information for giving direction or making decisions.
Wise, thought-provoking questions are invaluable in my life. They serve as a catalyst for inspiring me to explore and investigate answers and new opportunities which often lead to key learnings and innovative leadership insights.
Dr. K. Shelette Stewart – Associate Director of Business Development for Executive Education for Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business and author of “Revelations In Business”
Asking questions of others remind me that I have needs that I cannot meet. Those needs can range from needing directions when I am lost to needing emotional support when I am feeling discouraged. In short, when I ask questions of others I tend to stay humble!
“I believe that all leadership begins with awareness. There is no action without first an awareness of need. Questions open the doorway to awareness, and the most effective questions are those that improve a leader’s awareness of his team’s personalities, problems, and opportunities.”
Great questions help me understand those…(my bride of 43 years, 6 adult children and their spouses, 23 grandchildren, friends, staff and associates, and the people with needs that God places in my life)…those I desire to love, serve, lead and minister to.
The regular practice of asking carefully formulated questions has opened the door to all kinds of relationships for me. It has also added profound depth to existing relationships . . . allowing me to wonder and wander far beyond what I ever could have imagined otherwise.
As a teacher, speaker, and parent, one my most important tasks is to ask good questions. As I look back on my career as a student, it was the teachers who asked me good questions, and refused to give simple answers, that motivated and equipped me the most. It is much easier to give an answer, but much more strategic to ask a question. In fact, whenever a student asks a question, I almost always respond back with another question. They sometimes get frustrated, but they often come to realize its for their good. My goal is to surface their assumptions and to help them come to the answer for themselves. In teaching, asking questions does three things: (1) helps reveal what students are really thinking (so we can understand them better), (2) Helps students learn how to think for themselves, and (3) helps students own their answers. Isn’t that the goal of education?
Request from Bob: Now that you have read all of their thoughts on the value of questions in their lives and leadership I would love for you to join the conversation to share your thoughts on:
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