The Power of the Question

As a leader, have you ever become frustrated and thought “I could do this myself much faster”?

Did you act on that?  Or did you give the other person the opportunity to define the problem, come up with a solution, and succeed themselves?

I know I have been guilty many times of just taking the reins and trying to solve the situation faster for whatever reason.

Part of becoming a good leader is empowering others to succeed by helping them develop the skills they need.

Yet, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s something you have to practice.  And practice often.  If this is new to you, it’s hard to get the hang of at first because your natural tendency is to revert to what you know and just do it yourself.  In fact, it may seem unnatural at first.  But it is critical to learn if you are to be a successful leader.

So, HOW do you develop this skill?

Well, practice is important.  But what do you practice?  Asking open ended questions. Questions that start with the 5Ws are a great start!  Who do you need to engage?  What do you hope to accomplish?  Where do you need to start?  Why do you think that?  How will you engage your stakeholders?

The key is to lead someone to where they need to go by asking questions.  Again, this is a skill that you can develop over time; through trial and error.  I know that on occasion, I have sometimes interjected a closed ended question.  But the reality is that you can get someone thinking much broader if their response has to be something other than a “yes or no”.

Does this mean that you can never ask a close ended question? No, but remember your ultimate goal; developing someone else.  If an occasional close ended question needs to be asked, so be it, but try to get the person you are developing to think broadly and solve the issue for themselves.

Also, just because you are the leader doesn’t mean that you know the solution to the problem.  And quite frankly, you don’t have to know what the end solution is.  But you should be able to ask the right questions to elicit the response and/or behavior that you are looking for.  Ultimately, you are developing skills in others to properly problem solve or process information so that they become more effective and successful in what they do.

You may ask yourself, “Do I always have to ask questions to get someone to where they need to go?”  My personal answer to that is no.  It depends upon the situation.  Sometimes you need to be more directive; like during an emergency or time of urgency.  Could you imagine the fire alarm going off and you trying to get your direct reports to leave by asking questions?  There is a time for different approaches and you need to learn how to determine the best approach based on the situation.  What we’re talking about here is those teachable moments and developing others.

As an illustration, I’m attaching a link to where they had an excerpt from the book The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.  This is a good book if you’ve never read it.  In the excerpt they play out a conversation between an employee and supervisor.  The conversation centers around problem solving, but what I want you to focus in on is how the supervisor asks questions to get the employee to where he needs to be.  [JFYI – Fast Company is an excellent business resource for leaders and one I use often.]

At the end of the day, by putting the Power of the Question in to practice as a leader and becoming good at it you are not only developing others, but you are developing yourself to succeed at a higher level.




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