Ask Questions to Improve Your Leadership

This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Leadership is Not About Knowing All the Answers

Leadership is not about knowing all the answers—it is about leading others to do their best to accomplish goals, solve problems and grow. How many times have you seen a “leader” arrive at the wrong conclusion or take misguided action because they did not know all the facts? How many times have you been frustrated because you were not asked to provide your opinion, perspective or experience?

 


“Leadership is not about knowing all the answers.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

When leaders do not take time to formulate and ask appropriate questions, the whole organization suffers—people do not contribute their best; they do not grow, and the organization often takes sub-optimal or wrong action. Likewise, leaders that do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization, gradually turn associates into non-thinking “yes people” and risk looking foolish or arrogant.

A leader’s effectiveness can be greatly improved by using insightful questions. Here is how.

 


“Leaders who do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Benefits and Power of Asking Questions

With the proper use and timing, asking questions allows a leader to:

  • Guide the direction of the conversation and focus the discussion
  • Clarify what others have said to improve understanding
  • Improve decisions with better, in-depth information from people who may know more
  • Formulate well-informed decisions with input from other perspectives to better define issues
  • Precipitate a decision by asking for options and exactly what is needed to decide
  • Develop alternative options
  • Raise the level of thinking in the organization, often to broader, more strategic issues
  • Improve organizational collaboration and communication
  • Help move from concepts and discussions to action and defined accountability
  • Help focus on results and outcomes
  • Empower the organization
  • Make people feel valued and improve job satisfaction
  • Solicit input from those who may not typically speak up
  • Improve organizational learning
  • Inspire creativity and new ideas
  • Buy time to think
  • Help overcome wasted authority.
  • Allow confrontation without making statements by inducing people to explain themselves
  • Lead others to conclusions
  • Suspend the business discussion to discover problematic interpersonal issues, attitudes and concerns
  • Improve self-reflection to discern what was learned, mistakes made, missed opportunities to mentor, what to do differently

 


“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” -Thomas Berger

 

My Most-Used Questions

Each of us can come up with a list of questions to be used in the appropriate circumstance. Here is a list of questions that I have found to be effective and useful:

Top Reasons for Leadership Fails

This is a guest post by Alison Brattle. Alison is a marketing manager with AchieveGlobal (UK) Limited. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Reducing the Risk of Leadership Failure

The world’s greatest leaders know that success is fleeting and that no amount of success in the present can prevent a future failure. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it can’t happen to you, but the truth is, it’s much easier to fail than you think. An essential part of leadership development is understanding the warning signs that indicate potential problems; learn what they are and how to combat them to reduce the risk of a leadership failure.

 

Leadership Question: Are you able to write down your focus area in just a few words?

 

Your Focus Shifts

A focus shift can happen in many ways. Some leaders lose sight of what’s important; they get caught up by the pressure that leadership brings, and they lose the focus that they had on the job. In some cases, leaders start to focus too much on the finer details of the job, they start micromanaging, and they end up taking over tasks that are better carried out by other people.

What’s your primary focus in terms of your leadership role? If you can’t write it down succinctly in just a few words, you may be losing focus. Remember that you should be concentrating on leading, not on micromanaging.

 

You’re Communicating Poorly

If you’ve lost focus as a leader, you’re going to have a very hard time communicating your vision and intent to other people. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your team will automatically know what you’re talking about or know what you want without being told.

 

Leadership Trap: thinking your team automatically knows what you are talking about.

 

You’re Afraid of Failure

A good leader is driven by a desire to succeed, but sometimes, doubt and uncertainty creep in, and that desire for success turns into a fear of failure. Past success starts to feel less like achievement and more like pressure, and for some leaders that translates into a fear of taking reasonable risks and a fear of innovating.

Are you still comfortable with risk? Good leaders aren’t reckless, but equally so, they’re not afraid of taking on a reasonable level of risk.

 

Leadership Question: Are you taking the appropriate amount of risk?

 

Your Personal Integrity is Slipping