Is THIS the No.1 Tool for Successful Leaders?
"Effective leaders ask questions instead of giving orders."
Dale Carnegie wrote that in his classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People nearly 80 years ago, but the advice is as good today as it was then.
The higher people rise to power, the less likely it is that others around them challenge them or tell them bad news. Bad news often get filtered and edited as messages cascade upwards and sometimes is it hard for top leaders to get a real feel for what is actually happening.
One of the most powerful tools leaders can have is to ask questions and then listen to the answers. This goes especially for questions that can’t be answered with a simple one-word-answer.
Questions help us to look at things in a new light, challenge the status quo, search for innovative ideas and figure out how to do things differently. The art of asking the right questions with the willingness to listen to the answers is one of the most important tool in the toolbox of top executives.
How to ask better questions
Often questions can feel like accusations to the person on the receiving end, making them instantly defensive. But empowering questions allows the person a safe way to share without feeling at fault. So instead of asking, “Why is this project behind schedule?” you could ask, “How do you feel about the way the project is proceeding?” and you’ll get a much different sort of answer.
Some ways to make sure you’re asking empowering questions:
- Ask questions that increase clarity. “Can you explain more about this?”
- Ask questions that improve relationships. Instead of, “Did you meet your targets this month?” ask “How are things going this month?”
- Ask questions that encourage critical thinking. “What would be the results if we continue on this path?”
- Ask questions that inspire new perspectives on a problem. “Why did that tactic work so well?”
- Ask questions that encourage innovation. “What other ways could we address this problem?”
- Ask questions that challenge assumptions. “Why have we always done it that way? Is it really the best way to go?”
- Ask questions that value the person’s opinions and experience. “Based on your experience, what do you think we should do in this situation?”
No stupid questions
But perhaps the most important lesson a leader can take from this idea of questioning is to cultivate a culture that embraces questions.
Perhaps you had a parent or teacher tell you at some point, “There are no stupid questions.” This is the sort of environment you want to encourage in the workplace as well.
Many workplaces operate in an atmosphere of fear that those who ask questions, who probe into issues, or question authority will see negative consequences.
Instead, as the leader, demonstrate that questions are welcome by asking many yourself. Encourage employees to come to you or their direct superior with any questions they may have, and train managers to approach questions with an open mind rather than defensiveness or condescension.
This atmosphere encourages a culture of creativity and innovation that every business I know would like to foster at every level.