Many people have the belief that leaders give orders. They think leaders tell people what to do and how to do it. Sadly, that is true for far too many people in leadership positions.
Authentic Leaders however give few orders. They don’t bark out directions at people telling them exactly what to do. What Authentic Leaders actually do is ask questions. They ask questions to help their people grow. They ask questions to help their people learn. They ask questions to challenge their people’s thinking. More importantly, they ask questions to teach their people to challenge their own thinking.
They ask questions to help their people become and stay engaged. They ask questions to help their people feel like they are part of the team. And they ask questions to learn from their people.
Asking questions to help someone see how their thinking might be flawed is far more effective than telling someone they are wrong. Asking someone how they came to a particular conclusion is far more people valuing then telling them they don’t know what they are talking about.
Asking for input before making a big decision helps people be more supportive of the decision even if it wasn’t the decision they would have made.
Asking people for their ideas before dumping a change on them helps them feel as if they matter. It frequently makes the change more beneficial for everyone.
Authentic Leaders ask questions and they know the better the question the better the answer. The more questions they ask the more engaged their people become. Authentic Leaders know they can never stop learning. They also know they can’t learn anything by telling, they can only learn when asking.
Asking questions is a far more powerful way to lead then telling. But to real key to asking effective questions is listening well.
Authentic Leaders listen. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain of what was said AND what was meant. They listen with the intent to understand instead of listening only to respond. They listen with focus and without distractions.
Glancing at your cell phone to make certain you’re not missing anything important guarantees you’ll miss something important from the person you’re speaking with. And you’ll make them feel anything but important. Your cell phone doesn’t help you listen more effectively and you’re only fooling yourself if you think it does.
Ask questions and listen. Listen to the exclusion of any other noise. You will learn far more than you think you will. You might even learn that your team is far more effective than you thought they were.
5 thoughts on “The Power of Questions”
You said: “Asking people for their ideas before dumping a change on them helps them feel as if they matter. It frequently makes the change more beneficial for everyone.”
Yes, but don’t do that too often. Here in the UK, that has been the pattern of government for possibly twenty years; a requirement to ‘consult’ on a range of changes has led to a mindset where “consultation” means “We’re proposing this change, and we’ll ask your opinion of it first, but then we’ll go ahead and do it the way we want anyway.”
People – at work, or in public life – now have a cynical view of ‘consultation’ because so often it hasn’t led to any significant change in the final decision. There is a legal definition of ‘consultation’ that suggests that the initial discussion should be followed by some variation in the proposal under discussion. This is now so rare as to be almost unknown. The process loses credibility as a result.
I know that ultimately, management and business may not be a democratic process. Dressing it up as though it is may ultimately be counter-productive and erode trust.
Yes but….there really are no buts. Asking for input with no intention of using it or even attempting to use it is fraud, not leadership. Sorry to say that. If we ask or “consult” the people we lead then we owe them one of two things. First we owe it to them to use their input. Second, if we can’t use their input we need to explain in some detail why we cant. It truly does seem as if many of our elected officials, on both side of the ocean, seem to forget that basic leadership fact. But then again many of them aren’t actually leaders. 🥴
I couldn’t agree more.