Questions are so powerful.
The right question, asked at the right time in the right way, without prejudice or presumption, can reveal riches. Statements push; questions pull.
In leadership, there is a time to push, to make the case, to project ideas and information, but the more enduring element of leadership is to draw out ideas, to uncover the undiscovered.
The ability to ask questions—even if you sense you know the answer yourself—is the mark of a confident leader, a leader who understands the value of engaging others in the art of thinking, and who has the humility to recognize they can’t have all the answers.
I’ve reflected on a range of real situations I have seen in coaching my clients over many years and have thought about some questions they could have asked within their organizations that would have made all the difference – or are now today:
- If I died tomorrow, what would happen to this business? This isn’t about succession planning; it is about whether leadership is deep and shared, whether people feel they are the brand of the company.
- What, if anything, do you think makes our company special? If they don’t know, that problem is obvious. If the answers are all over the map, how can you be rallying people and their behaviors around a central theme that rings with the market?
- Is there something you think I should know but you don’t tell me because you’re afraid of how I might react? Of course, you have to promise yourself to accept whatever answer with grace and gratitude, but this question can really get to some truths (or perceptions) that you have to hear.
- What about our company makes you the proudest? Is there anything we do that takes away from that pride? When people are proud of where they work and what they do, they will scale mountains for you. More than any strategy or pay package, pride is why people want to work well.
- What is one thing you wish you could do better? What is one thing you think I could do better? Learners are the most accepted people in the world. When it’s clear we’re all learners, we feel much more like a team.
- What do think is the purpose of our business? What do you wish it was? Increasingly, the most successful businesses live out an expressed purpose that steps outside their own interests and serves some greater vision.
It might be an interesting exercise to spend a whole week just asking questions. The answers might surprise you.