I used to think that questions were simply sentences with a question mark on the end of them. Over the years I have come to know that questions are an amazingly powerful tool that we can use in many areas of our lives, and in particular to make us better leaders.
Many leaders are in the habit of telling instead of asking and in doing so create cultures of untapped potential – ‘same old, same old, disengaged, and underutilized people with the manager holding the power and being the fountain of all knowledge.
Research carried out suggests that up to 60% of people’s potential does not get used in the workplace and one of the key reasons for this relates to the style of the manager and the culture that is created as a result of this. As managers when we are asked a question the majority of us get into the habit of providing answers in the belief that this is not only helpful but also the most efficient use of our time. Indeed most managers believe that their role is to be the expert and to provide all the answers to their team.
Over the years I have learned that in many instances the opposite is true. What if providing an answer:
- denies the questioner an opportunity to learn and grow
- restricts the answers to always being the same way (i.e. the manager’s!), and
- creates a reliance on the manager that actually involves more of the manager’s time in the long run?
Indeed I know that if we can develop the skill of asking better questions we will access more wisdom, creativity, resourcefulness, responsibility, involvement, and enthusiasm in our teams than we ever thought possible. Imagine if your team not only used their initiative but brought to the table their own ideas, wisdom, and creativity and in that way added value to the way you do things in your business.
Fundamentally, the starting point for you to be good at asking better questions is a shift in mindset about your role. Traditionally managers see their roles as being about themselves and their knowledge and expertise, which means that they are right about the majority of situations, know the best solutions and believe it is their role to tell their people what to do.
If you are serious about getting the best from your team, having them fulfill their potential, and being engaged and empowered, you need to ask better questions instead of being a ‘teller’. Put simply, if you ask questions rather than tell people what to do you are well on your way to being a more effective leader who gets the best from their people.
As a final thought, we have focused on the skill of asking better questions of your team in this article. What if you were also really good at asking yourself and other people in your life better questions – what potential, resourcefulness, and wisdom are there within yourself, your family, and your friends to tap into?