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

15 Powerful Phrases That Will Make You A Better Leader

Powerful Phrases That Will Make You Better

Years ago, I was walking down a long office corridor in a nondescript office building. Visiting one of the largest companies in the area, I was being escorted to a conference room. What the purpose of that visit was, I really can’t remember.

But I do remember walking by one room. As I was passing by, I glanced in and saw a man at the front of a room filled with maybe twenty or so people. That would not be in my memory bank except for what I next heard.

 

“I’m sorry, I screwed that up and let you all down.”

 

That’s not something you often hear from the front of the room.

I froze, right in the doorway, wondering what he was apologizing for and what was going on. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had no business stopping to watch, so I willed my feet to keep walking.

In those few seconds, I don’t know the details of what happened. But I could discern that this was the boss, and he wasn’t holding back. He had made a mistake and was taking full responsibility for it.

It was impressive. I wonder what the others in that room thought. My guess is that they still talk about this boss of theirs.

 


“Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose your words well.” -Robin Sharma

 

There are a few power-packed phrases that anyone can use to change the course of a conversation. Here are a few that leaders use to transform their teams:

 

“I’m sorry.”

As I said above, this one is powerful because it’s unexpected, and it demonstrates both self-awareness and personal responsibility. That’s not a boss who looks to throw the blame faster than a quarterback about to be sacked.

“Leaders who apologize demonstrate personal accountability.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Tell me more.”

It’s open-ended. It shows interest. It demonstrates listening skills.

 

“What’s working?”

Especially good if everyone is complaining. This one refocuses on what’s positive. You can build on what’s working before you get into what’s not.

 

“I’m proud of you.”

It sounds parental and maybe that’s where its power lies. But I’ve seen this one both as a giver and a receiver. When it’s sincere, it’s a powerful phrase because it is clear and concise.


“Next to excellence is the appreciation of it.” -William Makepeace Thackeray

 

“How can I be of help?”

I’m often surprised at the response. It may be that simply offering an ear helps enough, but often there are a few specifics that really make a difference and are easy to do.

15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Conscious Leadership

Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp have just released The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.  It’s a practical leadership guide designed to help leaders become more conscious, take personal responsibility, and lead others in a win-win model.

If you need to pause, reflect more, and change your leadership style or behavior, this book will jumpstart your thinking.

 

Are You Above or Below the Line?

Personal responsibility and personal accountability are vitally important to success in any endeavor. You start the book with a simple but powerful model: Above the Line / Below the Line. Would you share that model with us?

The model is a simple black line.  At any moment a leader is either above the line or below the line.   When we are above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning. When we’re below the line, we’re closed, defensive and committed to being right. What we suggest is that the first fundamental building block of conscious leadership is the ability to accurately locate yourself at any moment, asking, “Am I above or below the line?”

This sounds rather simple, but it actually requires a high degree of self-awareness.  Many leaders spend most of their time below the line.  In fact, it is the normal state.  Asking them if they’re below the line would be like asking a fish if it’s wet.  When leaders begin the journey to conscious leadership, they develop a greater and greater capacity to locate themselves accurately in any given moment.

 

“You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making.” -Stephen Richards

 

Many leaders spend most of their time below the line because we go there when we are threatened or when we are in a fight or flight reactivity and the goal is survival.  Our brains are hardwired to do this.  This is normal.  It is human.  The issue is that this reactive pattern occurs whether the threat is real or perceived, and when the perceived threat is to the survival of the ego, we go below the line to protect it.  Many ego-driven leaders experience a fairly constant threat to their ego.  Thus they live and lead from below the line.

When leaders are below the line, they are in a low-learning state and create cultures of fear and threat. This results in lower creativity, innovation, collaboration and connection. When they’re above the line, they are in a state of trust, and the result is a higher level of effectiveness.

So the first key of conscious leaders is to accurately locate themselves either above or below the line. If they’re below the line, the second key to conscious leadership is to shift back above the line. Leaders master reliable shift moves that take them back above the line.

 

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear.” -Brian Tracy

 

The Dangers of Right

I have also written about the dangers of always being “right.” Why do so many of us have a strong desire to be right at all costs?

The reason we are so committed to being right at all costs and to proving that we are right is that the ego doesn’t believe it can survive unless it is right. Being wrong is ego death. Being right, and more importantly being seen as being right, becomes our highest goal.

What we see is that conscious leaders become more interested in learning than in proving to everyone, including themselves, that they are right. The more secure leaders are, the less they need to spend time explaining, justifying, defending and proving their rightness and the more time they spend learning through deep listening, curiosity and wonder. As leaders learn to lead more from curiosity and wonder, they discover that breakthrough ideas come their way regularly. Also, the more leaders get deeply interested in learning over being right, the more their teams and organizations do the same.

 

“Conscious leaders are more interested in learning than proving they are right.”

 

The Drama Triangle

Would you share the “victim-villain-hero” triangle?

When we’re below the line, we’re in drama.  All drama is driven by three roles: the victim, villain and hero.

VICTIM

When I’m a victim, I’m living as though I’m “the effect of” people, circumstances and conditions.  I locate the cause of my experience as something or someone outside of me. I’m upset because a supplier didn’t deliver or the markets are down or there is bad traffic. It could also be that I’m happy, but the cause of my happiness is the circumstances outside of me. Victims never take full responsibility for their lives.

VILLAIN

Villains blame. They blame others, the collective and themselves. They move through life finding fault.  Villains believe something is wrong and their goal is to figure out who caused it.

How to Create a Winning Business Culture

This is a guest post by Sandra Mills. Sandra specializes in covering management topics that are relevant in business and healthcare. She has managed both large and small projects on a number of occasions. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+.

When you’re trying to grow a successful business, attitude is often more important than specific skills and experience.  Someone who is eager to learn can easily be trained to meet your business’s needs, but someone who will only do the minimum to collect a paycheck will never help your business grow. Here are 6 ways to build a winning culture that will drive success.

 

1. Set clear goals

Employees who are eager to please can’t improve if they don’t know how you’d like them to improve. Broad statements such as, “Get better,” or, “Increase profits,” don’t provide a clear direction for them to follow.  A specific goal such as, “increase sales by 5%,” gives your employees a visible target to shoot for.  Once that goal is set, they’re more likely to know exactly what needs to be done to reach it.  Even if they don’t, they’ll at least know where to start to get there.

 

2. Make sure goals are reasonable

The goals you set can’t be too high or too low.  If they’re too low, they’ll be easily attainable and will create a culture of complacency instead of one of growth.  If they’re too high, employees might initially be motivated but then quickly realize they may never get there.  When that happens, morale will drop, productivity may return to or drop below previous levels, and future goals will likely be ignored.  Encourage employees to write down goals to stay focused. SMART goal planning (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely) can keep goals challenging but reasonable.  Encouraging goals to be written down will keep them measurable and in focus as well.

 

3. Don’t lose sight of the big picture

The best employees still need a strong leader in order to function well within a company. When you’re setting your goals, always think about where you want your company to be in five or ten years.  For example, sacrificing quality may increase profit margins now but may also lead to customers who leave and never want to come back.  Try to make all decisions from the top down.  Come up with a true vision for your company, the main ways to achieve it, and then set specific steps employees can take to get there.

 

4. Promote responsibility

The 3 Most Limiting Words

 

“That’s just me.”

She said it definitively in that way people dismiss a question.  Tossing her hair with a quick flip, she signaled to the small group that there would be no discussion.

I’m not much of an eavesdropper.  I normally am absorbed in my own work.  But I was sitting in this little café only a few feet away.

I think it was her manager who sat down at the table, motioning to her to sit down.  The discussion was about customer complaints and her abrupt communication style.  Customers felt that she was dismissive and perhaps slightly arrogant.  At the same time, she received high marks for her product knowledge.

“That’s just me,” she said again, before flatly adding, “I get frustrated and impatient.  But I do know what to do.”

That’s Just Me.

For a moment, I bought it.  After all, you can’t really fight it if that is really who you are.

But then I stopped myself as I thought about those words.

Instead of thinking about ways to grow, she had unknowingly slammed the door shut, imprisoning herself in a world much smaller than only a few moments ago.

One of the greatest attributes of people is the ability to grow, to change, to develop.  Who I was five years ago is not who I am today.  That incredible quality, the ability to change who we are defies those three words.

 

Only you have the power to determine whether your future mimics your past. -Skip Prichard

 

Change the Words = Change the Future

Personal responsibility demands more.  Three better words than, “That’s just me,” are, “I can change.”  And where does the power to change begin?  In the mind.

You can determine whether you are the same tomorrow as you are today.

You can decide whether you want to have a future that mimics the present.

I didn’t interrupt or listen to more of the conversation.  I slipped away, but with a lesson.

We are all wired certain ways.  We cannot change everything about ourselves.  But we do have more power than we think to mold the future.

I may not have said those three words that day, but often I have limited myself in the same way.  Instead of shifting blame to others or outside circumstances, how can I take more responsibility for the future and make it happen?

 

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” -Mother Teresa

 

“The future depends on what you do today.” -Gandhi

 

“The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.” Mary Pickford