Why Asking Questions Makes You a Better Leader

Jun 02, 2015

Why Asking Questions Makes You a Better Leader

Do you remember that one overly inquisitive professor you had in college? Each class was filled with a series of open-ended questions that sparked your critical thinking. Remember walking away feeling somewhat enlightened - even empowered - for arriving at the answers on your own?

The technique of asking questions for the purpose of drawing thoughtful solutions has been around for thousands of years. One of the greatest Greek philosophers ever known was a master of inquiry. Instead of lecturing, Socrates posed a series of thought-provoking questions to his students. Through questions, he engaged his students in learning and encouraged independent problem solving.

As their manager, your employees often come to you for help. Your current management style may include providing answers to problems - the most efficient way to get things done. However, the long-term costs diminish the short-term gain. By enabling your employees to consistently rely on your opinions, you impede their development and possibly cheat yourself out of fresh ideas. Your leadership effectiveness relies on asking the right questions, thereby encouraging employees to find the best solutions on their own.

Effective leaders inspire people to think in new ways and contribute to the success of an organization. When people discover their own answers, they feel competent and confident, and they take ownership of the outcome.

  • Ask open-ended questions that result in creative, innovative solutions.
  • Ask for ideas. This demonstrates your respect for your subordinates and lets them know you value their opinions.
  • Avoid disempowering questions about failure - this will undercut the confidence of your staff and sabotage their performance.
  • Let employees know when the right question leads to an original idea, and celebrate that victory.

The most empowering and effective questions create value in the following ways:

  • They create clarity: "Can you explain more about this situation?" or "What is the question I didn't ask you that you wish I had?" After all, a leader's job is to simplify and focus.
  • They form better working relationships: Don't ask, "Did you make your sales goal?" Ask, "How have sales been going?"
  • They help you think analytically and critically: "What are the consequences of taking this action?"
  • They inspire employees to reflect and see situations in fresh and unconventional ways: "If I had a magic wand, what would you want me to do with it?"
  • They encourage breakthrough ideas: "Can we do this a different way?"
  • They challenge beliefs and assumptions: "What would you lose if you shared responsibility for that project?"
  • They designate ownership of solutions: "You bring so much experience; what do you think would work?"

As you strive to lead by asking rather than telling, remember that you are only as successful as those who report to you. Effective management relies on developing the skill of asking the right questions. Being an inquisitive manager not only develops your leadership skills but also helps you develop the next generation of leaders who learn to fully access their creativity and resourcefulness.

Do you ask questions in your workplace? Does your team have clear communication? The Clear Direction Team and Communication Development Program provides a comparison of managers' emotional intelligence competencies and motivators with each of their key direct reports, peers, and direct manager and directs them on how they can best work with each person. If your company could benefit from improved communication and effective leadership skills, contact ZERORISK HR about our Team and Communication Development.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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