Questions are the barometer of leadership effectiveness…

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Pierre Marc-Gaston

The types of questions that one asks, as are asked, serve as a barometer of leadership effectiveness and capability. You can break this up into two broad categories.

First, the questions one asks indicate a desire to understand. Habit number six of the Stephen Covey “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I love this particular habit and it is one of my absolute favorites. The quality of the questions you ask sends a strong message to the person you are engaged with. It lets them know that you care, that you are deeply interested in what they have to say, that you are prioritizing THEM at that moment in your relationship. Demonstrating an ability to ask good questions that provoke deep thought AND communicate genuine care and concern is a critical element of effective leadership.

Second, as a leader the questions that others ask you serves as an incredible feedback mechanism on your ability to communicate with clarity as well as the overall effectiveness of your leadership and the culture you have created.

By paying attention to the specific content contained within the questions you are asked one can get immediate feedback on your ability to communicate and create understanding. The burden of communication is on the sender of the message and by listening to the questions not just to provide an answer, but to measure one’s effectiveness as a communicator one can refine and improve the message that is being delivered.

The types of questions that are asked provides a strong message about the culture of leadership you are creating. Are people willing to ask deep questions that challenge your thinking or position on a topic you are discussing? If so, then you have created a positive leadership environment that values doing what is right over being right. But if the questions being asked dance around the tough topics or, perhaps more importantly, they aren’t asked at all, then as a leader you are getting incredibly valuable feedback on the culture that you have created.

Pay close attention to the questions being asked. They can tell a very compelling story…

Question everything…

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

Claude Levi-Strauss

I love asking questions. When I am thinking through a big challenge one of my favorite methods of getting started is to sit down in a quiet place and list all the questions I can think of that would be relevant to solving the problem. I have found that finding the right question is often the most important part of solving any problem.

The right questions bring tremendous clarity and focus. I have a few mentors that I can count on to help me see and understand the truth about almost any situation. It amazes me how someone can ask a question of me that I hadn’t considered and it cuts through the fog like a laser beam. They never help me get there by telling me what they think, they always ask questions. This reminds me of another of my favorite verses from Proverbs.“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,” Proverbs 1:5

What are the most important questions for you to be seeking answers for today?

The best question…

“Perhaps the very best question that you can memorize and repeat, over and over, is, ‘what is the most valuable use of my time right now?'”

Brian Tracy

How often do you ask yourself this question? How often do you answer it honestly…? What would you need to change to make the answers to the question easier to actually do? How many times does it happen where you get to the end of the day and wonder if you actually accomplished anything?

The answers to these questions might not be easy or answers that you like. But changing them to ones that you do like could change your world…

Interested vs. Interesting…

“A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”

Brian Tracy

I once heard Jim Collins speak and he was relaying a lesson taught to him by Peter Drucker. The essence of the lesson was that if one wanted to become truly impactful as a leader they must change their focus and truly be more “interested than interesting.” The key here was that when one is focused on being interesting they are about themselves and what they want to say and do. When they are interested they are focused on the other person and how they can help them.

The next part of the lesson was on how to accomplish being “interested vs. interesting.”  If one wants to convey interest, then one must change the questions to statements ratio. Ask three, four, five times or more questions for every statement one makes. That conveys focus on the situation and the other person, not that you are only interested in being heard…

It has been at least 10 years since I first heard this and it has really stuck with me over the years. It is an area that I continually have to remind myself to work on and really focus on enhancing my questions to statements ratio. (I wrote a little bit about this (at least tangentially) back in August in this post.)

Take stock of your leadership words today. Are you asking more questions or making more statements? Are you focused on being interested or on being interesting? One side is about others, the other side is all about you…

Asking good questions is the key to the future…

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

Albert Einstein

I recently finished reading a biography on Einstein,  (Einstein: His Life & Universe by Walter Isaacson) that was a fascinating look inside the mind and accomplishments of one of histories great thinkers.  He had an insatiable curiosity and hated conformity throughout his life which framed his ability to question everything.  He was flawed as a human, as we all are, but is a truly fascinating study and this book is a very worthwhile read.  

I tend to think about the world in a slightly different order than outlined in the quote above.  For me it is Future, Past, Present.   For example, taking some time regularly to think about questions framed out in this way: 

Questions for tomorrow: What is truly important?  What do I hope and dream about?  Why does this stir my soul?  What is my purpose?  How can I live that authentically? 

Questions for the past: What did I learn?  Why did this happen?  What could/should I have done differently?  What was my greatest regret?  Greatest joy?

Questions for today: What should I be doing differently right now?  Given what I know about the past, and where I want to go in the future, what is my focus for today?  How am I actually living versus how I desire to live?   What will I need to do today to make this happen? 

There are tons of other questions to ask yourself in each of these buckets.  Ultimately our ability to grow is based on asking great questions, learning from the answers, and implementing changes today based on those answers.  

I firmly believe that if we ever stop asking questions, we stop growing.  The potential future self that is locked inside all of us dies with those unasked questions…

 

Why are you planting seeds?

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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Rose at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg, CA

For a seed to grow it needs good soil, sunshine, water, and fertilizer.  The right combination of ingredients leads to amazing flowers.  But which of these elements gets the credit for the flowers when they bloom? 

It really doesn’t matter does it? The credit for the end result is less important than the beauty that is achieved.  Yes, there is joy in the process of growth, and all the players matter, but not more than the achievement of the goal.  

It works the same way when we as leaders are focused on the end results, not on who gets the credit.  

 

Good ideas become great when they have the benefit of the input of others.  Are you planting seeds for you or for a greater good?

The weight of words…

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.”

Amit Ray

I love the magic in a meeting or a conversation that happens when the focus is on what is being said, not who is speaking.  That’s when a team is working together to solve problems and not simply waiting to be told what to do. Teams will be most excited and most engaged when the weight of the words being spoken by any one contributor aren’t first measured by their title or position.  The leaders job is ensure this happens by creating an environment that recognizes and rewards collaboration and the results that occur. 

The traditional model of leadership hierarchy has its place, at specific times and for specific purposes. But if you want to unlock the real potential of a team as a leader, ask more questions and facilitate more collaboration.

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