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

Communication Tips from Don Hutson

Communication Tips

Public speaking is not only a common fear, but it is also one of the most important skills if you want to see rapid promotions at work. I previously shared 7 Reasons Why You Should Improve Your Public Speaking. It is an incredibly important skill.

Don Hutson is a world class public speaker and past President of the National Speakers Association. His decades of experience made him the perfect person to sit down and discuss the art of public speaking.

Don has also authored or co-authored fourteen books. Two of them The One Minute Entrepreneur and The One Minute Negotiator have been Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestsellers.

 

“The number 1 antidote to fear is preparation.” -Don Hutson

 

In this video interview, I talk to Don about:

  • The importance of preparation.
  • How to overcome your fear of public speaking.
  • Techniques to handle hecklers.
  • 3 Tips to improve your speaking skills.

 

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1,001 Ways to Engage Employees

employee engagement

Increase Employee Engagement

One of the top priorities for leaders is employee engagement. For several years, I have seen countless books and executives looking at every possible method for increasing engagement.

Bob Nelson says that it’s time to move beyond measuring it. “It’s now time to focus the behaviors that truly impact employee engagement, and not just the scores that measure it.”

In his book, 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees: Help People Do Better What They Do Best, Dr. Bob Nelson provides the methods for increasing engagement. I recently spoke with him about his new book.

 

“If you have a good boss, you have a good job. That’s true the world around.” –Dr. Bob Nelson

 

Simple Things to Do Today

Share some surprising gems from the 1,001 ideas in the book.

Probably the biggest surprise for me has been the fact that the greatest motivators for today’s employees don’t require a big budget to implement, but are relatively simple, behavioral things any manager can do with their immediate team.  Thanking employees for doing good work, asking for their input and ideas, providing them autonomy and authority to get their work done, involving them in decisions that affect them, two-way communication, and using mistakes as learning opportunities for them to improve are some of the key take-aways.

 

“Most managers ignore or underestimate the power of praise.” -Roger Flax

 

Which ones have gotten more enthusiastic feedback than you expected? 

The book is still new, but readers in general love the real-life examples and pithy, fun quotes—both of which support the topics discussed. Hearing a great example makes readers immediately ask, “Why couldn’t we do that in our work group?” In this way, the book becomes a motivator of change: to try something new that may very well get you a better result. That’s my ultimate goal: to help people better manage their employees so they feel more valued for what they do and are more successful as a result.

 

And which ones might be most useful when the organization needs to bounce back from a bad shock?

Communication is critical in working with others, and you have to do more of that in tough times and times of change.  Managers’ tendencies, however, are to withdraw during tough times, so you have to fight that tendency and force yourself to be out there, speaking with employees, answering questions and helping them do a better job. Likewise, for employee recognition.  So many managers have an unstated assumption that they expect employees to always do good work, so they don’t have to thank them for it when they do. To the contrary, you need to proactively catch people doing good work in order to get them to more easily continue to do so. No one likes to work for a manager that only finds their faults and mistakes…

 

What do most managers get wrong when they think of engagement?

Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead

Are Your Conversations Worth Having?

conversations

Leadership Conversations

Conversations are a critical part of conducting business, of leading teams, of interacting with others.

Despite their obvious importance, how often do we think about them as a crucial skill?

Imagine if everyone on your team became exceptional at having meaningful conversations. Do you think it would translate to more wins? I’m certain of it, and that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres. The authors packed so much wisdom and experience into Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement that you will find yourself referring back to it as an essential conversation reference guide.

Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.

I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.

 

“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider

 

The Power of a Good Conversation

Talk about the power of a good conversation.

Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.

 

“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf

 

With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?

Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.

 

Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?

Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based.  If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.”  Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system.  The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.

On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.

 

“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching

 

What is appreciative inquiry and how does it relate to communication?