By Alan Weisenberger
Good leaders know the power of good questions. Not just because of the information they surface, but even more because of how they impact the asker, the answerer, and everyone else in the room. In short, our brains engage differently when we hear a question than when we’re told something. We miss the opportunity to spur growth in those we’re leading when we miss the chance to ask a good question.
But I’m a Problem Solver…
Your problem-solving ability may be what got you a leadership opportunity to begin with. And now we’re suggesting that as a leader you should try to get others to solve the problems rather than solving them yourself. Asking others for solutions – often even when you already have a solution in mind – has powerful potential for developing others so that your organizational capacity grows. Set aside the superhero ego that gets in the way and wants the credit. Sometimes we’re afraid a question will make us look stupid. Or worse, we really don’t care about the other person, their growth, and what they think. But that’s not leadership. Our goal as a leader is to help others reach their full potential and contribute to a higher level of joint success. When we provide the solution, we may be robbing others of the growth opportunity if we allow them to figure it out. It’s quicker in the short-term to just tell them, but that won’t promote growth.
The Power of a Good Question
Use questions, rather than statements, to…
- Capture our attention – A question triggers our brain’s Reticular Activating System and forces us to stop multitasking and focus. It’s hard to be distracted when someone’s waiting for you to answer.
- Spur learning – In addition to facts, we uncover perspectives, opinions, and assumptions, all of which reveal information that we might miss from our own angle. No matter how smart we are, others will see thinks that we don’t.
- Build relationships – Others feel valued when we seek their input. Their responses often reveal emotions that give us clues to ways to develop them better. These emotional connections increase loyalty and energy.
A Learnable Skill
Of course, it’s possible to use questions poorly. We can come across as an interrogator, wear people out with our incessant questioning, or be manipulative. Our tone and how we frame our questions matter. But asking good questions is easily learnable with a little practice and feedback.
- It starts with humility – OK, for some this foundation may not be so easy to learn. But every aspect of your success as a leader depends on it. Check the ego at the door and admit that everyone knows something that you don’t.
- Develop genuine curiosity – Curiosity’s enemy is certainty. Even if you think you know 99%, be hungry to discover the other 1% someone else knows. Be willing to question your own certainty and ask anyway. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you didn’t know. Other times you’ll find you were right but asking anyway gained the added benefits a good question brings.
- Really listen – Listening shows respect. Pay attention to the underlying emotions and what’s not being said. The words are just part of the communication.
- Avoid leading questions – Go deeper in exploring their ideas rather than redirecting them to yours.
- Spur thinking with open-ended questions – Save yes/no questions for when you need a definitive commitment. The rest of the time, lean on who, what, where, when, and how questions. Be careful with why as it can make people defensive.
- Be comfortable with SILENCE – Don’t fill every pause, let the silence hang to surface deeper thinking.
Asking questions isn’t always about learning what you don’t know. Ask anyway to engage brains and build relationships. Remember that an answer discovered is more powerful than an answer given!
Alan Weisenberger launched enLumen Leadership Services to invest in the next generation of business and nonprofit leaders. With a passion to help young leaders become wise before they grow old, Alan provides coaching, mentoring, and consulting to help leaders create healthy organizations where people flourish. His background includes twenty years as VP of Technology Services with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union and eleven years with Bank of America. He currently serves on several nonprofit boards. He and his wife, Kerri, have three daughters and one son-in-law. You can contact him at alan@enLumenLS.com, or 714-981-5585. For more leadership tips, follow his leadership blog at http://www.enLumenLS.com.