“Some people assume we stumble onto our success, but the path of discovery is paved with interesting questions.”—Bryan Cioffi
A primary motive of managers asking questions is to make decisions. They ask questions to gather enough information to use in the decision-making process. Beyond gathering information, though, typical managers don’t ask questions and don’t want unsolicited advice.
Insecure leaders don’t want it to appear as though they don’t have all the answers. So, they don’t ask a lot of questions. Insecure leaders don’t want someone else to get credit for an idea. So, they don’t ask a lot of questions. Insecure leaders don’t want too many people involved in a solution because they’re unable to effectively lead a group discussion. So, they don’t ask a lot of questions. Insecure leaders don’t want others to gain influence. So, they don’t ask a lot of questions. You get the picture.
But there’s a tremendous amount of power in a question. And high-impact leaders leverage this power for many reasons by asking their team A LOT of questions. Their primary motive for asking questions is to facilitate decision making among their team members. They don’t want to make all the decisions. Instead, they want to grow and develop every member on their team and understand asking questions is one of the most effective ways to do just that.
Here are seven reasons to ask effective, thought-provoking questions.
1. To show respect. Asking questions demonstrates respect. It lets your team members know they matter and shows that their opinions are valued and appreciated. It builds trust into the relationship. It allows the leader to model teamwork.
2. To transfer influence to them. Asking questions allows the team to influence the leader. It lets them feel understood, which creates more buy-in. When the team feels understood, members are more likely to support the path forward.
3. To give employees a voice. Asking questions allows the team to be involved in finding the solution. It allows them to have ownership in the process and the decision.
4. To learn how people think. Asking questions is a valuable tool because it allows the leader to learn how each individual thinks. It allows the leader to learn which team members are ready and want to lead.
5. To engage the team in the process. Asking questions allows the leader to share the responsibility and engage the team. It gets team members involved who may otherwise keep their opinions to themselves. It empowers the team to act instead of being acted upon.
6. To uncover hidden concerns. Asking questions allows team members to express concerns that may have otherwise remained unknown. It allows the leader to confirm the facts and minimize the rumors that spread so quickly along the front lines.
7. To develop a better solution. Asking questions creates a synergistic environment which allows the leader to think with many minds instead of just one. It helps all team members to realize that none of them is as smart as all of them.
Questions allow you to steer the team as you grow and develop them. By asking the right questions at the right time in a group discussion, you can create teamwork and validate it right on the spot. As you ask questions and the team develops solutions, always express your gratitude to them as a team. Don’t fall into the manager’s trap of acknowledging only the person that comes up with the final solution. There are usually many thoughts that have been bounced around that created “group think,” so acknowledge the group as a whole.
Questions also allow you to grow yourself as a leader. The better your questions are, the better the team’s answers will be. Nguib Mahfouz expressed it this way, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
Great questions lead to great answers. Don’t miss the point. The power of the question is multiplied by your ability to listen and ask an impactful follow up question that allows the other person to dig a little deeper for a better answer or a totally different answer. It’s the question after the question that often provides the best answer.
If you’re not getting the answers you want, it’s most likely because you’re not asking the right questions. Focus on open ended questions. Avoid asking questions that allow others to answer with a simple yes or no. Make them think.
You will know you are in the high-impact leader zone when you begin to answer questions from your team members with another question. When team members ask a manager a question, they get an answer. But when they ask a high-impact leader a question, they get a question. It’s a leader’s job to grow their team. When we give them answers, we are not growing them. We are showing them. Be intentional; answer more questions with questions.
Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from Blue-Collar Leadership & Supervision: Unleash Your Team’s Potential. Mack Story will share more insight at TDI: Driving Innovation Across Industries. To learn more, join him October 18-19 in New Haven, Connecticut.