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

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

How Mentally Strong Are You?

Amy Morin first appeared on my radar when her blog post 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do was published. The post went viral and was viewed over 10 million times. Behind the powerful advice was an equally powerful story, one mixed with tragedy but also with hope and resolve.

Using her expertise as a clinical social worker and therapist, Amy works to help people facing setbacks reach for happiness and success.  Whether you are depressed or doing well, studying these 13 ideas will make you mentally stronger.

After reading her new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success I was so busy talking about it and giving copies to friends that I forgot to circle back and interview her.  I’m now pleased to share our conversation in the hopes it may help others going through tough times.

 

“When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self.” -Amy Morin

 

3 Parts of Mental Strength

How do you define mental strength?

Mental strength has three parts: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Building mental strength involves learning to regulate thoughts so they’re helpful and realistic, understanding how to control emotions so your emotions don’t control you, and discovering how to behave productively despite your circumstances.

 

“Don’t allow inaccurate beliefs about your abilities to hold you back from success.” -Amy Morin

 

From Grief to Mental Strength

What inspired you to first write about mental strength?

13-Things-Mentally-Strong-People-Dont-Do coverI’ve always been interested in psychology and resilience. Over the years as a therapist, I’ve really enjoyed helping other people learn how to increase their mental strength. But in 2003, my interest became personal.

I had been working as a therapist for about a year, and things were going well for me both professionally and personally. But my life changed in an instant when my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. She and I had been very close, and I certainly learned a lot about mental strength first-hand as I managed my grief.

Then, on the three year anniversary of my mother’s death, my 26-year-old husband died from a heart attack. Dealing with such a sudden and major loss in my life was incredibly painful. I was able to take a little time off work, but I eventually had to return to my job as a therapist. Helping other people address their problems in my therapy office while privately dealing with my own grief taught me a lot about mental strength.

A few years later, just as life was looking pretty good again, I experienced another major loss. I had just gotten remarried when my father-in-law, whom I had grown incredibly close to, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Unlike my previous two losses which were both sudden and unexpected, this time I knew what was coming.

As my father-in-law’s health deteriorated I wrote my original list, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” It was meant to serve as a reminder of all the things I needed to avoid if I wanted to face the future with courage and strength. About two weeks after I wrote the article – in the midst of it going viral – he passed away.

 

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” -John Powell

 

Train Your Brain for Happiness

You’ve been through so much grief. Your pain is now benefiting many who are learning lessons from your experience. Part of the subtitle of your book is Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success. How do you train your brain?

Training your brain for happiness and success is not the same as chasing happiness.  When people chase happiness, they give in to instant gratification, and it leaves them feeling unhappier than ever. Building mental strength is about working toward your goals and living according to your values, both of which lead to happiness over the long haul. Training your brain for happiness involves paying close attention to all the choices you make each day and examining how those choices impact your mental strength.

Building mental strength is very similar to building physical strength. If you wanted to become physically stronger, you’d need good habits – like going to the gym. But you’d also need to get rid of bad habits – like eating too much junk food. Training our brains is similar. We need good habits – like thinking positively, but we also need to get rid of bad habits – like shying away from change.

 

“Mental strength is built by regulating thoughts, managing emotions, and behaving productively.” -Amy Morin

How to Stay Relevant and Ahead of the Competition

 

In any given day we receive thousands of messages.  Our inboxes explode with email.  Our social media accounts are never-ending streams of new information and updates from friends all over the world.

Staying relevant in the midst of all of it is an ongoing challenge.  Breaking through the noise and standing out whether personally or professionally is a constant challenge.

 

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” General Eric Shinseki

 

RelevanceAndrea Coville is the CEO of global public relations agency Brodeur Partners.  Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author and contributor to The New York Times.   Together they have written an excellent book called Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about the concept of relevance.

What do you mean by relevance and why is it so important?

Let us start with why it is so important. Worldwide, organizations spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually to get people to buy a product, embrace a brand, follow a candidate, or join a cause. And yet we can all agree that these marketing campaigns, ads, public relations initiatives, communication programs, and social media and change efforts are—to be kind—often less effective than they could be.

Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.

 

Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.

 

Okay, so what do we mean by relevance? We mean your offering is practical and especially is socially applicable.

We have found that most people misread the definition, putting almost all their emphasis on the practical.  That’s understandable.  It is certainly true that what you are offering must solve a customer need and do it well, but you need to do more.  And that is where the emotional part of relevance comes in.  If your product/service/idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to him in addition to being utilitarian, then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.

 

Avoiding Irrelevance

 

Let’s flip to the counter.  Irrelevance.  When you think about becoming irrelevant, it paints a whole different picture.  Would you share an example of a company becoming irrelevant?  What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, it is easy to come up with examples of companies that became irrelevant.  Think of a technology company that had THE hot product five years ago and now is a distant also-ran. Or think of entire industries—the makers of payphones and print encyclopedias spring to mind—that are no longer relevant.