Power Of Questions In Leadership

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.

Questions in your mind spark curiosity. Curiosity leads to ideas and ideas lead to innovation. Aryabhatta had a question on what is the shape of earth which led to the discovery that earth is round and not flat.

What do questions do?

  1. Lead to more attention and focus.
  2. Temporarily shut off all unnecessary thoughts as you are focused on answering the question.
  3. Increase observation power.

Question has the power to give direction to your thinking. Wherever your question points, your attention goes there; wherever your attention goes, energy flows and life grows.  That’s the reason why it’s important to explore this question about question.

What is the role of question in innovation?

Why does the apple fall to the earth and not the other way around? This simple question led to the discovery of theory of gravitation.

Who am I? What is God? What is the purpose of life? Trying to answer these three important questions led to all the world’s greatest philosophies and religions.

Every innovation every invention, even the work you do daily is trying to answer a specific question. Either a ‘why’ or a ‘what’ or a ‘how’ or to ‘whom’ or a ‘where’.

What are the different types of questions?

Closed ended questions: Do you want rice or pasta for dinner? Was the movie good or bad?

Open ended questions: What would you like to have for dinner? How did you like the movie?

The purpose is the same but when you ask a different question you get a different answer.

Open ended questions stimulate thinking and discussion. They allow you to explore many more alternatives. Closed ended questions have a binary answer, no further discussion. If you want to have a good conversation then start with Open ended questions.

Disempowering questions – Why do you always oversleep? They are problem centric and are energy sapping. They allow you to focus on the problem not the solution.

Empowering questions – How can I get up early? You want to have the same results. You want to wake up early. But the kind of questions you are asking yourself governs how you are going to put your effort. There can be many reasons why you oversleep. But if you flip the question and ask yourself ‘how can I get up early?’ you start exploring solutions. Empowering questions are solutions centric and they’re energizing.

Strategy questions. What do you like to do to help clean up Ganga? What can we do to see India as a developed country in next ten years?  These questions create options and motions. They avoid ‘why’. When you are trying to create options to move forward then asking a question like ‘why aren’t we developed’ is not very fruitful.

 What kind of questions help become better leaders

The leader of the past was supposed to be all knowing so he told what needs to be done. The leader of the present is someone who asks. A leader is the one who knows how to ask right questions. He need not necessarily have all the answers. But he needs to be a person who knows to ask the right question to the right person at the right time. And the principle is  – Ask, Don’t Tell.

With the expansion of knowledge no one person knows all the answers. You need to work together. It is not leaders who drive the results. It is the kind of questions that leaders ask that drive the results.

Typically managers ask ‘how can they get the most out of their team.’ Instead ask ‘how can I get the best out of my team.’  Just change in one word, from ‘get’ to ‘best’, changes how you think about your team and what you do. Instead of ‘how can I make them do the job’, ask ‘how can I allow them to do the job’. This one change from ‘make’ to ‘allow’ makes you start respecting and acknowledging their capabilities and opens up options.

Sincere asking demonstrates a willingness to learn because you are saying that you don’t know all the answers. A desire to serve and humility can inspire the entire organization. That’s why todays leaders are those who ask the right questions not who know all the answers.

Sincere asking is a beautiful way to make the team engaged and become one of the best leaders that you can become.

Appreciative Inquiry – There is an area of organizational behaviour that is called Appreciative Inquiry. What you ask determines what you find. The kind of questions you ask leads to the direction in which your mind thinks. And that is the area you are going to explore. It can be positive or not so positive.

Often you look at organizations as problems to solve not as opportunities to explore. There is a lot of focus on weaknesses (also called areas of development) which makes people feel bad, sad and mad by recalling on what they can’t do or don’t do. Seldom do you spend time on what you have done or achieved and what you are capable of doing. Appreciative Inquiry talks about questioning or inquiring what your capabilities are. See yourself, your team and your organization not as problems to solve but as opportunities to explore. When you paint a positive image it will inspire you towards positive action. It’s about all the beautiful things that are hidden inside you that you need to explore. What is good in me?

An organization wanted to become number one in the world. They created a huge campaign all over the globe and encouraged their employees for ideas on ‘how can we make the organization the best in the world?’ The marketing head of the campaign was visiting one very small office somewhere in Europe. One day one of the engineers went into his office and said that the campaign doesn’t inspire him.  You are talking about ‘how can we make the organization the best in the world?’ What inspires me is a simple change in one word – ‘how can we make the organization the best for the world?’

The marketing head started approaching things differently now. They started looking at the local communities and started asking questions on how they could help the local communities. How local communities could harness their power. And by helping them solve their local problems they created a billion dollar business. That company is Hewlett Packard (HP).

Quite often in this rat race you are always asked to become best in the team, best in the class or best the country. Just for one month try to be best for the team. See the joy you get from it.

Comment (1)

  1. Rashmi     July 12, 2018 at 2:48am

    Good one! 🙂

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