4 Reasons to Lead with Questions

Leader Asking Questions

Most organization and team cultures today focus on racing to identify actionable solutions. The most effective leaders, however, take time to ask questions that get people to share their thoughts and feelings en route to identifying actionable solutions.

Over the years I’ve come to believe that rushing to a solution is often unwise and that the journey is as valuable as the destination. Here are four reasons why.

  1. Conversation builds trust

Research by psychologist James Pennebaker has shown that when you get people to talk, they feel more connected to you, they like you more and feel they learn more from you. In other words, by getting people to talk and carefully listening to them you build trust.

  1. Conversation defangs destructive emotions

Asking questions and listening helps quiet destructive emotions. One reason hostage negotiators are 95 percent successful is that they ask hostage takers questions that engage the cortex of the brain, where we make rational decisions, and disengage the amygdala, an emotional region of the brain, thus overcoming the amygdala hijack

  1. Conversation facilitates alignment

Asking questions and carefully listening to responses helps people learn and grow. Lawyers who specialize in contract law talk about “meeting of the minds.” I like this phrase because it correctly identifies that minds can meet, partially meet or utterly fail to meet. The process of asking questions, carefully listening to responses and asking additional questions helps facilitate a meeting of the minds that promotes alignment of actions so that the team is all moving in the same direction.

  1. Conversation Improves Engagement

Over my career I’ve witnessed time and again how people who are ordered to implement a set of actions do so with little commitment and effort. Leaders who involve people in the conversation to identify and finalize actions are rewarded when people implement the actions with greater engagement.

What Questions Should You Ask?

Several resources are available to help those who want to lead with questions. Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is a good place to begin. It recommends questions to use in the context of coaching and mentoring including:

What’s on your mind?

And what else?

What’s the real challenge here for you?

What do you want?

How can I help?

Another worthwhile resource is Peter Drucker’s 5 Most Important Questions by Peter Drucker, Frances Hesselbein and Joan Snyder Kuhl. Drucker’s questions are as follows:

What is our mission?

Who is our customer?

What does the customer value?

What are our results?

What is our plan?

Finally, StoryCorps, the nonprofit organization that has recorded more than 60,000 interviews with more than 100,000 participants, has learned a thing our two about effective questions. Check out Great Questions from StoryCorps and consider using some of them with your team, friends and family.

If you doubt the power of leading with questions and the importance of sociality, check out the 36 questions that lead to love and this article on Google’s Project Aristotle.

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