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Leadership Blog: The Best Questions to Ask

The Architect June 28, 2016 Leadership Blog

This week's blog is a highlight from a full essay: 'Leaders should ask more questions and do less telling' by the Hub's founder Phil Dourado.

Finding solutions through using questions to direct our attention goes all the way back to ​Socrates​. And there is plenty of evidence that leading by asking questions is more effective than leading by telling.  But, too many leaders don't like questions.

​WHY LEADERS DON'T ASK QUESTIONS

The problem leaders have with questions derives from two related leadership conceptions: 1) the need to appear infallible and 2) the concept of the leader as trouble-shooter or solution-finder. There's a common third reason leaders don't ask questions: they fear they'll get an answer they don't like.

Half-smart leaders half get it. They phrase instructions as questions, trying to lead people by the nose to the solutions the leaders want. But questioning as a disguised form of persuasion is a sham exercise and everyone knows it.

WHAT MAKES A GREAT QUESTION?

Michael Marquardt, in his book Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask​' , tells us succinctly what makes a great question:

"Great questions are selfless, not asked to illustrate the cleverness of the questioner or to generate information or an interesting response for the questioner. They're generally supportive, insightful and challenging. They're often unpresumptuous and offered in a sharing spirit. Great questions are asked at a time when they generate the strongest amount of reflection and learning." 

Marquardt also gives the following examples of questions leaders may find useful:

"What is a viable alternative?

What are the advantages and disadvantages you see in this suggestion?

Can you more fully describe your concerns?

What are your goals?

How would you describe the current reality?

What are a few options for improvement?

What will you commit to do, by when?"

A couple of those are a bit uninspiring and bloodless, I feel. I prefer the expansiveness of a question like "What way forward can you see?"

© Phil Dourado. See the full article on EvanCarmichael.com.

Phil Dourado

Phil Dourado is The Leadership Hub founder. He's the author of two leadership books. Phil and his team run an online leadership community of practice for one of the world's largest companies.