I’m told that as a kid I was particularly annoying to people because I asked so many questions. Apparently my favorite question was why. That is still the case today. Not that I’m annoying (I hope) but that my favorite question remains why. 

Why should be your favorite question too. In almost every circumstance you should be asking why. 

Why do I do the things I do. Why is my boss asking me to do the things they ask me to do. Why am I asking the people I lead to do the things I’m asking them to do. Why does my company have our current policies and procedures in place. Why don’t people ask why more?

You know how little kids will sometimes ask an endless string of why questions? Well those kids are on to something. But those kids also have an advantage over grownups, the kids don’t need courage to ask why. As we get older it seems asking that question requires a lot more courage. The most successful people find the courage to be like kids.

You can tell me you’re a highly productive person but if you can’t tell my why you do the things you do, with a high level of specificity, then you don’t really know if you are actually as productive as you could be. 

If you’re a leader and you can’t explain, again with a high level of specificity, why you’re asking your people to do specific tasks and assignments then you should not be asking them to do them. 

And just so we are crystal clear on this point, “we have always done it this way” is NOT a high level of specificity. 

Too many “leaders” still think being asked “why” by one of their people is an affront to their authority. Authentic Leaders don’t need authority to lead, they use their influence instead. They willingly answer the “why” questions with as much detail as they can muster. 

The next time one of your people asks “why” tell them. Tell them why you’ve asked them in particular. Share with them why the task or assignment is important to the organization. Include how it helps you and how it can help your team member grow and develop. If you don’t have any of those answers then you REALLY need to ask yourself why you’re asking someone to perform that task. 

Most of all, understand it is not a weakness to answer your teams “why” questions. It is in fact the strength of an Authentic Leader. 

As an individual, if you’re not asking yourself a why question at least once a day you may be doing things that are burning up your valuable time without giving you any value in return. That is not a path to prosperity. That is also not a path to happiness. 

I’d rather be annoying and know why I’m doing what I’m doing instead of mindlessly doing what I’ve always done. Even if that means annoying myself sometimes. 

So be a kid again. Ask why until you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s way better than just doing stuff to do it. 

The Power of Questions

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.