Lead With Questions, Not Answers

Guest Post by Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders Ask The Hard Questions

While it’s tempting to try to “have the answers,” good leaders instead ask the hard questions. They may be questions for which the world does not have workable answers. They may be questions that help reinvent a company or industry. They may be questions that must be answered now to prevent problems in the future. They may be questions that generate a much needed dialogue.

Leading With Questions Is Engaging

When We Give Questions, We Give People

  • Curiosity – a reason to explore and be interested
  • Insight – from thinking, reflection and engagement over time
  • Possibility – answers are yet to be discovered
  • Enhanced thinking skills

When We Give Answers, We Give People

  • Boredom – no effort or engagement required
  • Diminished thinking skills – lack of use, less practice
  • Resistance without growth – if they disagree and there is no room for discussion, they may resist
  • Compliance without engagement – they go along but they don’t know why they should care

Great Leaders Don’t Have “The Answer”

“Having the answer” isn’t leadership. Leadership involves engaging others in efforts that matter and bringing out their individual and collective best. “Having the answer” isn’t teaching. Teaching involves lighting the spark that will guide someone’s learning journey for a lifetime. Here are some wonderful observations on the importance of questions:

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” ―Richard Feynman
“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.” ― Shannon L. Alder
“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Great leaders spend time thinking about the right questions to ask.

They engage others in discovering the questions and answering them together.

They pull from a diverse collection of resources and data.

They engage others in learning.

They find out how much they don’t know before looking for “the answers.”

Linda Fisher Thornton

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of leadership development firm Leading in Context, helping executives, leaders and groups learn to think and lead through complexity while staying grounded in ethical values. Her book 7 Lenses helps leaders see ethical nuances using a multi-lens perspective that reframes their thinking at a higher level.

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