Asking the right questions as a leader could be a game changer
Why? Why? Why?
Anyone who has kids, or spends significant time around them, knows that questions are their main conversation starters. (In fact, the average four year old asks almost 300 questions a day – one every couple of minutes!)
Why? Because they’re desperate for information, they want to solve the mysteries going on around them (like why water is wet and grass is green) and they want to put their environment into their own worldview to make sense of it.
This is actually quite smart.
Their questions – whilst obscure at times – make you stop and think about the answer, (or you find the answer to keep them happy for a while – thanks Google!), or you work out a way to discover the answer together.
Questions, cause conversations, and (hopefully) a helpful discussion on a topic as well as ultimately a transfer of knowledge – something is usually learnt when someone asks a question.
Losing the skill of asking questions
The older we get, the less inquisitive we are and the fewer questions we ask. Is it because we already know everything there is to know and we no longer need to learn anything?
As adults, and especially leaders, we could do to learn a thing or two from the younger generation, and start to ask the right questions to get the outcomes we want – and to keep learning and improving!
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
How leaders could use questions to elicit better results
During a recent keynote I did on leadership, an audience member hit me with a great question:
What is the one thing we could do immediately to see positive change?
My answer: ask the right questions.
Sometimes questions are more important than answers.
~ Nancy Willard, Poet
The neuroscience (and art) of asking questions – and why they make a great leadership tool
Asking questions engages the pre-frontal cortex in our brains – the very act of asking a question makes us stay alert enough to hear the answer.
Asking questions results in:
- Less need to jump in with a reactive emotional response.
- More time for us to properly think of a good counter response.
- Time to breathe.
And these are all great reasons for asking questions!
Open-ended vs. closed questions – what should a leader do?
If you’re trying to uncover information or learn some new information, open-ended questions are the best:
Can you explain more about this process?
How do you think these changes will impact your role?
However, if you’re struggling to get what you need in a tense situation, or with someone who isn’t very talkative, closed questions (only offering a limited amount of choices) might elicit more information:
Which works better for you, the old system or the new one?
Can you tell me 3 things that would make this process even more efficient?
Closed questions involve a significant amount of bias and manipulation though, so consider which options you are actually giving the other person!
A critical leadership skill is asking the right questions at the right time
So, not only do you need to ask the right question, but you also need to time it right too.
For times of conflict, stress and challenges in the workplace, questions offer a much-needed break from the old-school ‘this is how we are doing things, like it or leave mentality.’
Involving employees, and seeking their input at all levels by asking the right questions is a smart move by leaders. Where we once may have seen it as a weakness (because we might assume the leader doesn’t know something if they are asking their employees for input), we are increasingly seeing this type of collaboration as a positive thing. And it is!
Building connection: where your leadership super power can shine through
There are plenty of differences between a leader and a boss or manager. But in terms of questions the distinction is usually quite easy to see.
As outlined in this Gallup research, a boss would simply give orders, or a deadline and then hand out punitive measures when the request wasn’t carried out.
A leader on the other hand would start asking questions to figure out what was going on…
“This report has been on your desk for a while now. Are you having trouble getting the information you need to complete it? Do you know what’s expected of you? Does it seem so low-priority you can afford to put it off? Do you need help?”
These are process-oriented questions, but they all connect to engagement elements too: access to necessary materials, having clear expectations, connecting tasks to the organisation’s mission or purpose, proof that the manager cares.
While it might seem this is a lengthier process, by taking ownership of the challenge, you will soon see that the results are worth the initial time investment.
Want to learn more?
I believe questions are so important for leaders that I offer a whole workshop on them!
Questions and their Consequences
The questions we ask are fateful. They direct our attention, our conversations, our energy and the actions we take. Asking the right question can unleash powerful possibility and change in your work, your team, your organisation, and beyond.
What questions are you asking?
In this workshop you will:
- Learn the power of questions on the brain
- Discover four questions from Appreciative Inquiry that you can use to ignite lasting change
- Practice using questions to create positive change in your own life
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Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams
Paige Williams, PhD
Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach
Paige helps leaders leverage their leadership to lead teams that deliver and create culture that feeds high performance.