The A in Leadership: Ask Questions

If leaders LISTEN, and ENGAGE FULLY, they’ll be ready to ASK QUESTIONS — the third key to leading through a crisis.

Crisis tends to stimulate all our old habits and ideas, forcing us into a corner by instinct, no matter what our skills, goals and hopes might be.

The way out of instinctive reactivity is simple: ask questions.

Good questions create new opportunities out of clarity, knowledge and respect.

A leader who asks questions finds out what s/he needs to know. In the face of change, our biggest challenge is that we want to hold on to the people we believe ourselves to be.

We grip onto our identities, the familiar ways we know ourselves, the archetypal stories we claim as our strengths, our path. We know ourselves as leaders who have modeled our lives on the ancient psychological patterns of archetypes, roles as diverse as seeker, warrior, caretaker, innovator.

But in moments of organizational and cultural transformation, we need to be able to change these comfortable roles, therefore changing our relationships and expanding our abilities. We all move onto a new path in these times. We must become shapeshifters in order to respond with every part of ourselves, not simply the parts we understand as who we are.

To become the leaders we need to be, we have to learn to ask good questions.

1. Avoid leading questions — followers often want to tell us what we want to hear. It’s a survival skill, as well as a part of many corporate hierarchies. If you’re hearing what you expect to hear from everyone, you are probably asking leading questions.

2. Ask open-ended questions, with curiosity and without judgment. According to MediaCollege.com: “An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge and/or feelings. It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions.”

3. Be quiet and listen (see The L in Leadership) while they’re answering the question. Do your best not to think about your answers, your agenda while they’re speaking.

4. Ask clear follow-up questions, with respect, so you can really understand what they’re saying. This requires your full engagement (see The E in Leadership) — a connection with the person talking.

Especially in times of change, a leader’s ability to open up a good relationship with followers is key.  Followers are just as challenged by change as their leaders.

That’s why good leaders ask good questions. A leader is not the only expert in a transformational situation. Everyone changes together, or falls apart in crisis.

7 comments

  1. […] Leaders facing a crisis have to muster all their best qualities and skills, but the most important element of sustainable leadership is creating sustainable relationships. According to my practical lexicon, that includes (follow the links to find out more…)  LISTENING, ENGAGING FULLY, and ASKING QUESTIONS. […]

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  2. […] is great advice, especially the “Ask” part. That’s the A in Leadership, in my acronym. And his advice, to ask for volunteers instead of defining responsibility based on […]

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  3. […] I argued that the “A” in leadership is asking questions, I emphasized the importance of courage and curiosity. Asking questions means […]

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  4. […] others might be thinking. State the problem clearly. Listen carefully. Engage in open dialogue. Ask open-ended questions. Invite contrary opinions. Challenge assumptions. Make getting to the truth more important than […]

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  5. […] more to asking good questions than phrasing, timing and clarity. The key is leadership that creates an environment where […]

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  6. […] leads us forward with a sense of wonder, moving forward with solution-generating questions — not necessarily pre-imagined outcomes. Willpower and discipline follow curiosity because […]

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