Why Leaders Should Ask Questions?

May 14, 2020 by  

Many leaders hesitate to ask questions because they fear it will make them appear weak. Leaders are supposed to have all the answers, right? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), 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. But there are all kinds of benefits to asking questions, regardless of how much you know.

Here are a few:
1. Great questions lead to great discoveries. If you ask profound questions, you get profound answers. If you ask shallow questions, you get shallow answers. If you ask no questions, you get no answers at all.
2. Great questions are the anecdote to advice. Our own advice can be great sometimes, but lousy or misinformed 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.
3. 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 far you go. When you give answers, you get followers. When you offer questions (and coach through the process of determining the best answer), you develop more leaders.
4. Great questions delegates responsibility. At the end of the day, if you are the person everyone comes to with every problem, your leadership bar will remain low. 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 he or she has come up with themself than to follow the guidance of someone else.

What do Great Questions Look Like?
It is true that most leaders don’t become great at asking questions until they become great at listening (something that should cause each of us to pause and consider). There is a learning process for everything. But in the meantime, let us consider some examples of what great, 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 for conducting training?”

Closed vs. Open-ended Questions: Closed questions require a “yes” or “no” answer while open-ended questions can have many outcomes.
Closed: “Have you thought about creating a new task force?”
Open-ended: “What are some ways you could approach this challenge?”

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 feel accusatory, regardless of their intent. No one likes being on trial. Using a “tell me more” approach opens up the dialogue.
Why: “Why did you decide to ship only seven orders?”
Tell me more: “Can you tell me more about the thought process for this shipment?”

Actually asking great questions instead of giving advice is probably one of the hardest disciplines leaders encounter. The first step is to stop yourself from giving unsolicited advice. The next step is to respond with a question. The next step is to make that question a powerful one. I encourage you to give it a try and actually stick with 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. Besides the leaders you serve will develop right along with you.


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