Many leaders hesitate to ask questions because they fear it might make them appear weak. Leaders are expected to have all the answers. Unfortunately, the world we live in has become so complex that it is simply not possible for anyone to have all the answers, no matter how tenured he or she is. However, there are certainly all kinds of benefits to asking questions, regardless of how much you know.
Here are some reasons:
- Great questions lead to great discoveries. Author and consultant Bobb Biehl likes to say, “If you ask profound questions, you will get profound answers. If you ask shallow questions, you will get shallow answers. If you ask no questions, you will get no answers at all.”
- Great questions are the anecdote to advice. Our own advice can be great sometimes, but not so great or even misinformed at other times. Giving advice is easy and costs little, at least on the surface. In organizational settings, however, a leader’s advice can quickly get translated into a “direct order” with no room for further discussion. This does not encourage others to think for themselves.
- Great questions develop the critical thinking skills of others. If you are a leader, the critical thinking skills of your team will likely determine how well the team does. When you give answers, you get followers. When you offer questions and coach them through the process of determining the best answer, you will develop leaders who will be good problem solvers.
- Great questions delegate responsibility. At the end of the day, if you are the person everyone comes to with all their problems, your leadership bar will remain low and you will end up spending a lot of your time solving the issues of others and not have time to do what you need to do as a leader. Leaders need followers who can solve problems on their own. In addition, keep in mind that a person is always more motivated to act on and own a solution that he or she has come up with themselves rather than follow the guidance of someone else.
What do Great Questions Look Like?
It is definitely true that most leaders do not become great at asking questions until they become great at listening. We certainly learn a lot more from listening well as opposed to just talking. There’s a learning process for everything. Nonetheless, in the meantime, let us consider some examples of what great and powerful questions look like.
- Leading vs. Non-Leading Questions: A leading question proposes a solution in the form of a question. A non-leading question opens up the possibility for multiple solutions. Consider the differences between these two examples.
- Leading: “What would happen if you tried having training meetings on Tuesdays?”
- Non-Leading: “What are some different options you might consider for conducting training sessions?”
- Closed vs. Open-ended Questions: Closed questions require only a “yes” or “no” answer while open-ended questions can have many outcomes and generally bring much more information to the discussion.
- Closed: “Have you thought about creating a new task force?”
- Open-ended: “What are some ways you could approach this challenge of creating a new task force?”
- Advice vs. Possibility Questions: An advice question is basically just advice in the form of a question.
- Advice: “Couldn’t you address that situation at this afternoon’s meeting?”
- Possibility: “When or how could you address that situation?”
- Why vs. “Tell Me More” Questions: Why questions can be abrasive and even feel accusatory, regardless of the intent. No one likes being on trial. Using a “tell me more” approach opens up a dialogue.
- Why: “Why did you decide to ship only seven orders?”
- Tell me more: “Can you tell me more about how you decided on the content of this shipment?”
Actually asking great questions instead of giving advice is probably one of the hardest disciplines leaders face. However, if one can learn to do this well, much more will be learned, relationships will flourish and more potential toward other leadership possibilities will be developed.
- The first step is to stop yourself from giving unsolicited advice.
- The next step is to respond with a question instead.
- The next step is to make that question a powerful one.
My suggestion is to give it a try and actually keep practicing it. Ask someone to give you feedback on your question-asking ability. It will be slow at first, but eventually, it will start becoming natural for you. In addition, the leaders you serve will develop right along with you making it a win/win for everyone.
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