Managers have answers; leaders ask questions.
Lawyers only ask a question (in court) when they already know the answer; leaders ask questions to which they don’t have the answer. They are curious. This curiosity pays dividends.
By asking questions, leaders engage their followers and tap into the knowledge and experience of their team. They have let go of the need to have the answer. Instead, they focus on being able to recognize the answer when they hear it. Certain types of questions hinder this curiosity, others support it.
Let’s start by looking at a couple of types of questions that hinder. The first type is closed or yes/no questions. They suffer from two main drawbacks. First, they require no thought or reflection to answer. Second, the presuppose the answer and strait jacket the search for answers. The very opposite of letting go.
The second type of question that’s not very helpful is “why”. It doesn’t help to promote understanding, since, in many cases, it can trigger defensiveness. If you don’t believe me, just observe your own inner response when someone asks you why you did or didn’t do something. The idea behind the question is to gain understanding. to do that, we need to ask other questions.
Questions that support curiosity come in different forms; they all strengthen leadership. One basic form is the open question, where we probe for more information by inviting the other person to give us information. Notice the difference between the following two questions:
- Will the report be finished by Friday?
- What else do you need to do, to complete the report?
The first one is a standard yes/no question. It can be answered without the person needing to think. Since many people find it difficult to say no, you get the default answer of “yes” and are none the wiser. The second question, however, requires the person to think for a moment. As they begin to outline what else they need to do, you can begin to see whether or not you need to probe more deeply for information, or whether you need to take supportive action to help them achieve the goal.
Tomorrow, we explore another form of question that supports curiosity.
Photo: Marek Uliasz / iStockphoto