Great Leaders ask great questions (part 1)
This is the first of 3 posts that focus on the value of questions in being a great leader. In the first of the series, we explore the value of great questions to leaders.
To tell or to ask?
Too often we look to leaders and managers to ‘tell’ the staff what to do, or how to do it. This is a habit of management and leadership left over from the ‘command and control’ model of management that we left behind last century. It assumes that all of the knowledge resides in the leader or manager, and ignores what the staff member knows. It also fails to account for the collaborative potential of what may be discovered or created during a quality conversation.
If we believe that individuals can bring motivation, intellect, experience and innovation to the business, then rather than simply ‘telling’ them what to do we may engage them in appropriate conversations on the topic. This allows the leader to realise the inherent potential of the person or people they are leading, and enhance overall performance. The best way to encourage such quality conversations is for the leader to become expert at asking quality questions.
Questions help us understand and explore a situation, as well as challenge and expand it. Whilst we can simply ‘tell’ someone to perform a task, this does not guarantee that they have the motivation, the skill or the infrastructure to make it happen. It does not allow us to explore if there is a better way to do it, or what needs to be changed or added so that what needs to be done can be completed as effectively and efficiently as possible.
It is here that great questions allow these elements to be unlocked or defined to help us draw the potential out of those we lead, ensure tasks can be done, and open the way for innovation to emerge. As a leader, we can help those we lead to understand their thinking frames and thinking processes, as well as to expand what they know and create space for them to imagine new possibilities.
By asking rather than telling, we invite the other person to bring their subjective experience and beliefs into the discussion in a valuable way. We use their current beliefs and knowledge as he starting point. Telling, on the other hand, neither adds to their knowledge or beliefs, or helps a person make different meaning of what they already know. In this way, leadership is all about the quality of questions that we choose to ask.
Being a great leader starts with asking great questions which allow us to understand someone’s subjective experience. From there we can add our opinion and objectively derived facts. We can then work to get a specific agreement in terms of a shared understanding. From this point we can work to either deepen their understanding, or expand their thinking, depending upon their circumstance. The process of ASK-ADD-AGREE is a critical one for leaders to adopt to influence change. If we do not ask, we never find out their subjective experience. If we do not add, we do nothing to help them shift to some new understanding. If we do not then get agreement, we have no shared understanding of the ‘new’ position from which we can work forwards.
This process is only possible if we ASK first – Put simply, great leaders ask great questions to drive high performance.
How do you ask great questions?
What makes a great question?
When should you use questions to advance quality work and engagement?
Find out in the next 2 parts of this series. jump straight to part 2 here