When you think of a successful leader, you probably think of someone confident and decisive. Whether the person you have in mind is someone you know, or an individual who is a bit more abstract (like a well-known business figure), one facet of leadership to consider is the ability to ask questions. Not only do questions serve as an opportunity to solve problems and develop processes, questions can drive personal improvement and aid in delivering targeted and effective results. In this day and age, leaders are expected to motivate, engage, and influence. And this can be done most effectively by asking the right questions.
Leaders are mentors, educators, and coaches. Like a great teacher, an exceptional leader doesn’t just give answers. By asking a good question, a leader is inviting others to think broadly and deeply, probing beyond the surface to look for ways to solve problems that are not initially available. There are a few types of questions that can help both leaders and their team members think outside of the box. One question is to consider why the current status is in place. Why do we do what we do, and what is the purpose for it? It’s very common to maintain or inherit practices in the workplace, and questioning those systems can help us be more efficient. Secondly, a great leader can help empower his or her team members to solve problems by asking how they can help, rather than trying to fix the issue at hand for them (or with them). The goal is to get the individual to understand what the immediate needs are, as well as what they need to accomplish.
When it comes to personal improvement, a leader can employ great questions in order to receive targeted, actionable feedback. A true two-way dialogue between a manager and his or her team must often be anonymous, but one element that is most often missing is that it must also be transparent. It’s one thing for a leader to ask, “What should I do differently?”It’s another entirely different approach for a leader to ask everyone, “What should I do differently, and please share your ideas with the rest of the team.” One method that might work to replace the anonymous suggestion box is an anonymous message board, where individuals can leave ideas and feedback, and see what others are saying as well.
An effective leader should master the art of asking open-ended questions when giving guidance and directives, as this method empowers team members to take initiative in fulfilling the request. The strategy behind asking an open-ended question is that it changes the leader’s request from an instruction to a solicitation. An open-ended question is asking your team what methods they, or other peers in similar industries, have employed that have been successful. It’s important to note that the directive of developing a solution is implicit; it doesn’t need to be directly pointed out to the reader. The open-ended question goes a step further, asking the team member to share ideas and to think a step further than what they immediately know today.
It’s an old adage that no question is a bad question, and the days in which a leader who asks questions might be perceived as inadequate are long gone. The leader of the future is able to deploy smart and targeted questions to achieve a number of purposes: solving problems and issues at hand, requesting feedback for personal, professional, or business improvement, and influencing and motivating others. By asking the right question at the right time, a leader can push their team to go above and beyond. After all, leading others isn’t solely about giving instruction; it’s about developing and empowering others to achieve.