Thursday, June 18, 2009


In our Leadership Workshops, I do a section titled, "It is the Questions, not the Answers". The point is that a leader can add more value asking questions than providing answers sometimes.

It is through questions that one can add real value. Take the case where you are advising a very experienced person or speaking with your CEO. It is often very hard to out-answer these people. After all, they are very experienced and they have most of the answers. The way to add value is ask focused questions that the experienced person hasn't thought of before. Such a question really catches their attention. They reflect and consider the question and the potential answers. And the beauty of having the questions is that you don't need to have the answer at the same time you ask the question.

So, how do you get these questions? It is easier than you might imagine. You see, in today's information driven world, people run from meeting to meeting checking their emails. They are in a meeting that started late and then they are running into the next meeting. They finally run from that meeting to the next meeting and, yes, they are late for that meeting and it runs over too. Like an airline, once the day's schedule goes off the track there is no way back because there is no time scheduled to catch up.

What the true leader does is stop the current meeting 15 minutes before the next meeting. Then the leader focuses on the next meeting. What are the three biggest issues to be covered? What are the likely answers to the three biggest issues? What are the most significant risks to the issues and likely answers to be covered?

This process forms the basis for asking the questions that others haven't thought of before. Not because others can't think of the questions. It is because others don't spend the time to focus on the issues.

Leaders go through this process before every meeting and soon they don't need 15 minutes. They are good to go after only 5 to 10 minutes because they have trained themselves to work the process.

This process works great with your direct reports also. One of our followers, Brian, was kind enough to send me a article on asking questions. It is a must read if you are any kind of leader at all. The article focuses on how to ask questions that require your direct reports to rise to the occasion in a way that gets them to learn to solve their problems. It details asking questions in an open-ended manner that encourages discussion.

The author is also quick to warn against leading questions. Leading questions seeking a specific answer pushes the questioner's agenda and exerts pressure for agreement. While this may be expedient for resolving the matter at hand. It will cost more time in the long run.

Finally, the author points out that you are only as successful as the people who report to you.

Cheers, Mike

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