by Jonathan Jones
Most of us tend to feel smart when we think we have all the answers. From your own perspective, it feels good to come up with answers for everything. Recipients of your answers may feel some confidence too; after all, now they have some information to take action. Answers feel definitive. You may be right – and you may not. In any case, the answer’s recipient can easily excuse himself from any responsibility to learn enough to reach his own conclusions.
Questions, on the other hand, can make you smarter and more effective as a leader. Questions stimulate curiosity, learning and the ability to think independently. They also encourage teams to work together to solve problems. So instead of saying to your staff, “Do this ... ,” say, “What would you do?” You are getting them to think. You can support their thinking when they respond, even if you don’t happen to agree, with more questions. “Why do you think that?” Be prepared to learn something from them that will change your understanding.
By encouraging your people to probe ever deeper, you not only stimulate new ideas but also build confidence. As a team, the goal is to reach shared understanding. If you need to get to the heart of a root problem, ask questions. In my opinion, “Why?” is the greatest question ever. It may take five to 10 whys before you get down to the why of the problem, but once you do you’ll be surprised how fast the right answers will materialize. As a leader, it is your job to get others to think and work together. With questions, you can uncover better and more effective answers.
Your job as a leader is not to have the right answer, but to have the right question.
Jonathan Jones (Jonathan.firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-608-0783) is a CEO peer group chair/coach for Vistage International.