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

How to Lead with Joy with Richard Sheridan

Click above to watch our video interview.

The How of Great Leadership

 

There are some books that I read, perhaps take a few notes, and then move on. There are others that are dog-eared, have my notes in the margin, and become reference guides. Today I am sharing one of those books.

This is one that I will recommend to aspiring leaders everywhere. It’s written by Richard Sheridan, CEO and cofounder of Ann Arbor-based Menlo Innovations. Menlo has won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for six straight years and many other awards.

Richard’s philosophy and focus are similar to my own. He zeroes in on culture, on servant leadership, on self-understanding, and on teaching others to lead. After reading his new book, Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear, I was pleased to continue the conversation. Watch our interview to learn more.

 

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“If we encourage people to build relationships in a safe environment where they feel valued, not threatened, the masks can start to come off.” -Richard Sheridan

 

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” -Walt Disney

7 Elements of Leadership Gratitude

leadership gratitude

Leadership Gratitude

Years ago, I recall working on a major project for months. Every individual on the team was expected to do his or her own regular day job, and also work on this massive initiative on the side. At night. On the weekends. In whatever spare time you could find.

I recall the brutal travel required to get it all done. The entire team finished, and it culminated in a big presentation at company headquarters. Visiting executives were positioned in a large conference room, listening to the findings and recommendations of the group.

What that team did was impressive, and the executives in the room were pleased. That was clear because they immediately adopted the suggestions.

But they didn’t tell us. They didn’t say anything.

The team had imagined that they would take us all out for a big celebratory dinner. It didn’t happen. Instead, we simply faded back into the daily activities that consumed us before it all started.

The problem was a senior management failure to recognize the huge contribution of the team. The senior executives had an entitlement mentality. I am sure that, if you asked any one of them, they would say, “Well, that’s what they are paid for!” Or, under significant stress, they simply did not think about it.

Having served as a senior leader for many years myself, I am conscious of this more than ever. In the busyness of the job, in the pressure of the need to perform, it isn’t always easy to remember to pause and say thanks. We are on to the next thing and there are dozens waiting in line.

Ask yourself, how often have I been guilty of the same behavior?

 

“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” -Gertrude Stein

 

Leaders Express Thanks

Leaders stop and express gratitude.

Leaders regularly look for ways to show gratitude to those who make a difference in their lives.

Sam Walton said it incredibly well when he said, “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.”

When should a leader express gratitude? What does leadership gratitude look like?

 

“Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.” -Sam Walton

 

Gratitude is best when it is:

How Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation

human footprint

Create Connection

Though we live in an ever-connected, always-on world, we somehow seem less connected to actual, real people than ever before. Is it possible that the very technology that connects us is contributing to a sense of loneliness and isolation?

In Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel answers that question. Based on research spanning thousands of managers and employees, Dan’s new book is a fascinating look at the impact technology is having at work and at home. Dan is a best-selling author, a partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com.

I recently asked Dan to share a little more about his research.

 

“Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden.” -Arianna Huffington

 

Workplace Loneliness

Tell us more about your research into workplace loneliness and its connection to technology.

There is a loneliness epidemic spreading across the entire world. An Aetna study shows that almost half of Americans are lonely. In the UK, nine million people are lonely and over 200,000 haven’t spoken to a close friend or relative in the past month. In Japan, 30,000 people die from loneliness each year. I’ve read about the impact of loneliness and have felt lonely myself as an only child and someone who lives alone in New York City. For my book Back to Human, I conducted a global study with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees from ten different countries. Overall, I found that 39 percent say they at least sometimes feel lonely at work. I spoke to the former U.S. Surgeon General, and he said that loneliness has the same health risk and reduction of life as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day. In the workplace, technology has created the illusion that we are all hyper connected, yet in reality we feel disconnected, isolated and lonely over the overuse and misuse of it.

 

“It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.” -Ed Catmull

 

Share a little about personal fulfillment and how we can enhance it on the job. 

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after we meet our physiological and safety needs, we need to focus on belongingness and love if we want to be self-actualized, reaching our full potential at work. We spend one-third of our lives working, so if we have weak relationships with our teammates, we feel unfulfilled. We are less productive, happy and committed to the team and organization’s long-term success as a result of not having close ties. In order to best serve the needs of our teammates, we have to first focus on our own fulfillment. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing the most, what do your past accomplishments say about your strengths, what your core values are, what brings out your positive emotions and where you envision yourself in the future. Once you’re fulfilled, it’s important to get to know your teammates on a personal level, understand their needs and then service those needs. You can do this through on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and regular meetings where you show you’re committed to their success.

 

“Given how much time you’ll be spending in your life making a living, loving your work is a big part of loving your life.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Create a Culture of Engagement

Being Decisive is Overrated

decision making
This is a guest post by Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc. Her latest book, Clarity First, outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational and individual performance.

The Problem with Quick Decision Making

Most leaders agree, it’s important to have clear ideas about the issues that matter to them and their organizations. Yet, leaders are praised far more often for making quick decisions than for thinking clearly.

In such a fast-paced, noisy world, leaders understandably feel the pressure to think and act fast—but this can be to their detriment. Today, more so than ever, it’s critical to give oneself the time needed to assess a situation fully, gather on-point information, and develop a thoughtful position.

Not convinced? Think of it this way: clear thought is a precursor to making good decisions, acting decisively, solving problems, and seizing opportunities in a way that consistently fulfills the organization’s goals.

But, as most leaders will attest, this is much easier said than done. You have to be patient and possess disciplined thinking habits.

Here are three ways to start:

Be mindful.

Mindfulness means paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. It’s a state of being that allows its practitioners to lead with greater clarity by developing a calmer and more focused mind. It introduces a pause between receipt of information and your reaction to it, and it slows thinking processes enough that they become observable.

Mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness meditation is a trending topic in leadership and management literature for good reason: there’s a growing body of scientific evidence showing that mindfulness meditation changes the brain in a powerful, performance-enhancing way. It develops areas of your brain responsible for self-regulation, allowing you to more effectively place your attention where you want it, regulate your mood, and manage your response to information.

Here’s another bonus of mindfulness: it helps create more healthful stress responses and more effective ways for the brain to process large volumes of inputs.

 

“Mindfulness helps create more healthful stress responses and more effective ways for the brain to process large volumes of inputs.” -Karen Martin

 

Ask questions.