Why Leaders should ask more questions

Posted on October 12, 2021
By rita cincotta

Why Leaders should ask more questions

Leaders often think they need to know all the answers.  It’s a myth about leadership.  Great leadership is about creating the space for others to find the answers, so they are developing their skills and expertise too.  In helping others to explore and find the answers you have a greater chance of developing trust, confidence and engagement in your team.  How can this be done?

It’s all in the types of questions you ask.

Open, exploratory questions create room for a discussion and space for people to put forward their views.  If you hold a belief that as a leader you need to have all the answers, asking more questions than what you answer may feel foreign initially.  It can leave you feeling weak, vulnerable and questioning the value that you bring.  However, flipping this belief is important if you want to increase your leadership effectiveness.  

Through asking, leaders pose more questions than they answer. It takes more vulnerability to ask questions than answer them when you are the leader.  Asking questions, helps to clarify, and it helps you to genuinely seek to understand. It helps you to elicit information and get a clearer picture of the facts.  By asking more questions, you take on the role of the leader as the learner, as opposed to the leader as the knower, as described by Fred Kofman from Axialent. 

Taking on more of a learner mindset than a knower mindset equalises the power dynamic between you and your team.  It reinforces that everyone in the team can learn from each other, rather than learning just from the leader.   It helps everyone to feel increased value in their contribution.   

What types of question should I ask?

Questions that stink of micromanagement are not the type that help you to be a learner.  We all know those types of patronising questions…

“What have you missed here?”

“When will that task that is already ten days overdue be delivered?”

“I can spot what’s gone wrong, can you?”

What you want to focus on are the big questions. Questions that promote exploration, insight, curiosity.  These types of questions invite genuine collaboration with your team.

“What can we consider this quarter to improve our customer experience?”

“What is the data telling us about how our partners view working with us?”

“How can we improve our ways of working in this new hybrid environment?”

As a leader, your primary role is to lead your team in delivering on the vision, strategy and goals for your organisation.  Your role is about observing behaviour and being tuned in to what might be getting in the way of achieving these goals and helping remove barriers and blockages. You won’t always know what is causing these impediments.  However, taking on a learner mindset will help you and the team work though issues together.

Rita Cincotta coaches, facilitates and speaks on individual and team performance, leadership development and ways of working. She works with organisations to develop human centred solutions that help people and businesses to thrive.

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