The Benefits of Leaders Asking Powerful Questions

questions

 

This is a guest post by Fred Halstead, founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching and author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results*.

 

The Leadership Skill of Asking Questions

Powerful questions will help you learn both about the person you’re speaking with and the subject you’re discussing. You can find out how the person thinks and what is important to them, based upon what they say and don’t say. The more you continue to ask powerful questions, the more you will accomplish both. This confirms George Bernard Shaw’s point: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” So often we fall into a trap in which we believe we understand each other and grasp the concepts being explained, only to later find that it was almost as if we were speaking a different language to one another. Continual probing and on-target questions will help both you and the other person arrive at the best solution and learn more about each other and yourselves.

 

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” -George Bernard Shaw

 

It seems obvious since we spent two chapters discussing the importance of listening, but when a question is asked, allow the other person the time to respond. You want to be sure that thought processing and critical thinking are at play. I had one client who felt that the reason the respondent didn’t answer immediately was that he or she didn’t have an answer. If you want a quick answer, there is a really low probability that you will gain a truly thoughtful answer. If your expectation from a thought-provoking question is a quick answer, you risk the other person being frustrated in a nonproductive way, with you and with themselves.

Powerful questions also satiate your sense of curiosity. When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking. When the right question does not come to mind or the person was not clear in what he or she said or was trying to say, you can always respond: “Tell me more about that.” This simple phrase will expand the other person’s thinking as they further verbalize their thoughts and your understanding of what they are saying. When one is not naturally curious, the desire to respect the other person by exploring their thinking provides a solid motivation to ask questions that bring out the person’s best thinking. Instead of saying, “Stay thirsty, my friend,” as Jonathan Goldsmith did in the Dos Equis ads, say to yourself, “Stay curious, my friend.” Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.

 

“Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.” -Fred Halstead

 

Powerful questions are perfect for discussing sensitive matters. Asking difficult, tough, or edgy questions can be hard for even the most veteran leaders, but those who want their colleagues and team members to succeed will of course need to ask some from time to time. As a coach, I ask those questions fairly often to bring out my client’s very best thinking. When the person is asked a tough question that reflects on them personally, you will find it interesting, maybe surprising, and rewarding to first ask for their permission to ask a difficult question.

The typical question is simply something like: “May I ask you a tough question about all of this?” (This is one example of when a yes/no question is wise.)leadership skills book cover

Tough or difficult questions are direct and go to the heart of personal accountability and, at the same time can inspire a higher level of performance. Examples of such questions include: “In retrospect, what could you have done differently to create the outcome we wanted?” or “What was an even better way for you to handle that?” These questions will help them reflect on their decisions and actions, and also on what they can do in the future to improve. A question such as, “What do you need to do to greatly improve this situation?” or “What specifically will you commit to do differently when this or a similar situation arises?” may feel too pointed at first, but it will lead to them being more reflective and thoughtful, help them avoid the same actions in the future, and to grow as a leader. These kinds of pointed questions also demonstrate that you care about them as a person and you care about their success—and they reflect clearly on who is responsible. They have no sense of “gotcha,” which tends to make it about you more than their responsibility.

 

“When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking.” -Fred Halstead

 

Ask Questions that Touch the Core

2 Core Motivators That Impact Our Decisions

2 Core Motivators

You walk into class and take your seat in a large lecture hall. It’s only the second week of law school and your senses remain on heightened alert. You’ve been warned about this particular class. The professor is known as tough. He sees his role as weeding out the students who are smart but cannot make it in the courtroom. Fail his class and you’re out.

Perhaps even more importantly, he runs the class like a courtroom. He will question you as if you were an attorney fighting for your client’s life. You watched what he did to one student in the last class, reducing the student to an emotional mess.

You’re determined not to show weakness. You’ve prepared and studied like never before.

That’s the way I felt during my first year of law school. Some level of fear, I learned, may have its place as a self-motivator. No one wanted to walk into class and look foolish and unprepared. More than pursuing a good grade, it was the fear of public humiliation that drove most students to study and prepare for class.

Whether you want to motivate yourself or others, there are motivators at the core of every action. Knowing what is driving you and others is critically important.

Recently, I saw Greg McEvilly’s talk on motivation. Greg suggests that fear and love are the twin drivers of most actions. Greg is the CEO of KAMMOK, a company that sells outdoor equipment specializing in hammocks. In graduate school, he began to ask questions about motivation and behavior. Why is it that people behave the way they do? Even more important, Greg studied his own actions and thought about the definition of the words love and fear.

 

Love versus Fear

Greg’s definitions:

 

“Love is being other centered with little to no regard for self.” – Greg McEvilly

 

“Fear is being self-centered with little to no regard for others.” –Greg McEvilly

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Awaken the Creative Genius Inside

 

Do you think of yourself as creative?

Ever wish you could be just 5% more innovative?

Do you know how to create an environment that fuels your creative genius?

 

“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” –Jonathan Swift

 

Each of us can become more creative. Inside YOU is creative genius, as unique to you as your fingerprints.

It’s up to you to unlock it.

Over many years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview numerous experts in the field of creativity and innovation. Whether learning from an entrepreneur or an artist, I have collected some of the best advice available on how to boost your creativity.

And these experts have shared with me what we get wrong when we think about innovation. There are myths that we believe to our own creative detriment. Don’t believe these limitations which lock you in to a dull, gray world!

 

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau

 

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“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” –Maya Angelou

 

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.” -Brene Brown

 

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” -Dorothy Parker

 

Why not make this the year where you uncover the artist, the innovator, the creative genius inside of you?

 

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Creating a Wide-Awake and Engaged Workplace

The Conscious Leader

We’ve all seen the depressing statistics about employee engagement.  People are not fully engaged at work, not happy, not being utilized, and not fully using their talents.

What’s a leader to do?

Dr. Shelley Reciniello is the author of The Conscious Leader: Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-Awake and Productive Workplace, a leadership approach designed to apply psychological tools to improve individuals and corporate culture.  She works with senior leaders in a wide variety of fields.  She has provided services ranging from employee assistance programs, executive coaching, leadership and diversity training seminars.

 

“What is going on unconsciously is often more important than what is on the surface.” -Dr. Reciniello

 

What is a conscious leader?

A conscious leader is someone who understands that people don’t leave their psychological selves at home when they come into the workplace and that includes the leader.  This kind of leader accepts that all human beings are not rational and that our rational minds are constantly influenced by our unconscious motivations, hidden agendas, unresolved childhood issues, fears, anxieties, fantasies, prejudices, obsessions, and complicated emotions like anger and guilt.  Conscious leaders understand that what is going on unconsciously, out of awareness, is often more important than what is happening on the surface. They know that the rational mind, both the individual one and the corporate one, can only be strengthened by dealing with unconscious issues, not by pretending that they don’t exist.

Starting with themselves, conscious leaders seek to make what is unconscious conscious.  They want to know the whole story about themselves – what emotional baggage they carry, what defenses they habitually use, how others really see them, what their Achilles’ heels are. They are committed to self-development and increasing self-awareness.

Conscious leaders know that in order to create workplaces where people will want to be, they must understand the psychological principles of people at work and apply them daily.

 

The Power of Honest Feedback

Give us an example of one way a leader can be more conscious.

A leader who is open to honest feedback is going to really know how others see him or her.  They may not like what they hear, but they dig down deep in themselves to understand the root of the behavior in question, and then they can begin to fix it.  We have a lot of what we refer to as “narcissistic leaders” — probably the same amount that we have always had, but our culture seems to condone and even admire their grandiosity and bravura.  When I work with a leader like that, it is usually because the board or some other entity has insisted that this person curtail their behavior.  It is not easy for them to change because they cannot believe that their charisma and success aren’t enough.

Cub_TheConsciousLeader-altaI worked with someone like this and I knew that underneath the fascinating façade, he was quite damaged, never felt loved for himself from an early age, so he compensated by creating a larger than life self that he believed would be worthy of love.  In the coaching, he worked hard to understand how others saw him and how he made them feel. He began to see what good behavior looked like. So although we couldn’t change the structure of his personality at such a late age, he was able to become conscious of what the right behavior would be and he would mimic it.

He is actively engaged in trying to modify his behavior and his impact on others.  He uses techniques like active listening to help him have real conversations with his direct reports.  He understands that it isn’t “all about me,” and the discipline it takes for him to listen has been rewarded by the input and ideas that are growing his company.  He tells me that he reminds himself of his story every two hours!

 

Understanding How We Deal With Change

What is one commonly misunderstood psychological principle? How does it relate to organizational leadership?

It is generally acknowledged that more change has occurred in the last decade, largely due to the advances of technology, than at any other time in human history. And there appears to be no end in sight. Principle 8 focuses on the fact that change is a constant in every workplace. Whether the change is initiated by a world event, the marketplace, or comes from within, it will require a particular kind of leadership if it is going to be accepted and implemented on both an organizational and individual level.

 

“All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” -Harry Levinson

 

Our natural, evolutionary response as human beings is to fear change and to resist it. It represents the unknown and unfamiliar and carries with it the possibility that we will suffer harm. Over time, we have learned that change can also be positive and lead to good things. The complete truth about change is that it is always hydra-headed; it is about both winning and losing.  In corporate restructuring, for example, change usually results in two groups, those who will win and stay and those who will lose and leave.  But it isn’t as simple as that in reality.  For even the people who get to stay often talk about how things were before the restructuring because something was gained but something was also lost.

My mentor, Harry Levinson, used to say it this way: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” When we do not allow for the mourning appropriate to the occurrence, successful change is jeopardized. Mourning seems like a natural thing to do.  Think about the crying and other shows of sentimentality at any high school or college graduation.  If leaders jump the gun and demand the swift, dispassionate adherence to change, resistance will kick in and there will be corporate consequences.  The recent recession brought dire economic consequences to many, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The extent of the changes that occurred, and the speed with which they happened, did not give people the time and resources they needed to adjust to their drastically altered circumstances.

A swift-moving, action-oriented business model leaves little time for people, whether they are going or staying, to readjust and acclimate to a changed environment.  No one is immune and everyone feels vulnerable.  The unspoken contract between employer and employee, and the trust that goes with it, are forever broken.

 

The Family Dynamic at Work

The Hype and Hope of MOOCs

 

 

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to host an expert panel debate on the subject of MOOCs.

What are MOOC’s, you ask?

It stands for Massive Open Online Courses.  In the world of education and training, they have garnered considerable attention and debate.  Some say that this new technology will change higher education forever, causing thousands of traditional institutions to disappear while it dramatically lowers the cost of education.  Others say it holds promise, but the hype has gone too far.  The MOOC will change education in various ways, but it will not lead to a fundamental transformation.

Outside of formal higher education, MOOCs hold enormous potential for continuing education, professional development and training.  Organizations that want to grow must grow people, and MOOCs offer an opportunity to learn in a completely new way.  On my recent trip to Africa, I had many conversations about the transformative potential MOOCs offer in this regard.  Corporate leaders should be studying this potential.

The above video is an abbreviated snapshot of the conversation.  If you would like to see the entire MOOC debate, it is here.

Many thanks to the panel participants:

Bryan Alexander, author of The New Digital Storytelling, an editor of the Horizon Report and a frequent writer/speaker on digital technology in education;

Anya Kamenetz, a contributing writer for Fast Company, the Digital/Edu blogger for the Hechinger Report, and author of Generation Debt and DIY U.

Ray Schroeder, Professor Emeritus and Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, and Director of the Center for Online Leadership and Strategy at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association;

Audrey Watters, a technology journalist and founder of Hack Education;

Cathy De Rosa, OCLC Vice President for the Americas and Global Vice President of Marketing.