If you have talked to a parent of a preschooler recently, no doubt they are weary of the never-ending-question phase their child is in. The question preschoolers ask most frequently: “Why?” It is a short and sweet question that requires deep thought, and often the answer is one we don’t even know. Perhaps that is part of what is exhausting about their never ending inquiries.
What makes a preschooler so inquisitive? They are naturally curious and eager to learn.
Around the time children head to school, this trend of perpetual questioning trails off. By the time you are a leader, you think you need to have all the answers instead of asking questions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your job is to uncover the best answers, and the truth is that sometimes you just don’t have the best answer or even the right information to have the best answer.
I regularly work with leaders in group coaching situations who are learning the value of asking great questions as they seek to enhance their ability to lead. It doesn’t always come easy – it is a muscle that has not been used! However, as they become more intentional about asking rather than telling and practice they discover some pretty incredible things such as:
- Asking questions ultimately builds greater trust with those they lead.
- The outcomes or solutions are superior when approached with questions.
- There is less pressure when you don’t have to know it all!
- You learn important things through questions that you might not learn otherwise.
- The process of asking questions strengthens the relationship with those they lead.
Leading is all about influence, not having all the answers. Asking questions increases your ability to influence!
As a leader, and as a human, we naturally have assumptions and thoughts about how to do things. When you ask questions, you gain the insight from others who have different experiences, personalities, perspectives, and thinking preferences. When you take into account what you learn through asking questions, you significantly increase what you are able base your decisions on.
The questioning process also has a few other side benefits like…
- Questions give those you lead a chance to let their strengths shine.
- When you resist telling, it frees others to get more creative and share.
- Requires you to listen more – that’s always a good thing!
- Creates safety – that makes for a much better team!
- Ownership – when people are part of the process they are more committed to the outcome.
- Challenges mindsets and ways of doing things so they can be improved.
Want to take your leadership to the next level? Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to asking questions:
1. Ditch your solutions
Yes, completely let go of what you think should happen and get curious, preschooler curious, about the possibilities. The temptation is to ask leading questions to steer someone to your solution, but you will miss the opportunity to make your solution an even better one if you chose not to get curious.
When you let go of your own solutions, new ideas, perhaps even better ideas, just might surface. It’s also an excellent way to access the understanding others have on an issue and to become informed about aspects of the situation you might not have even been aware of.
2. Ask open ended questions
If you are genuinely curious, open ended questions are your friend. Those are questions that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” You will glean much more by asking short and sweet questions that begin with “what,” “how,” or “when?” While the question “why” is a good one in certain situations, it has the potential to come across in a way that causes people to become defensive.
Don’t overlook simple questions like “what else?” or make requests such as “tell me more…” Tiny questions that probe, yielding big results.
Closed end questions can feel like a cross-examination and do not offer near the level of information an open ended question does.
3. Ask empowering questions
Empowering questions are phrased in a respectful way that encourages people to explore and share more. They convey that you value the person, the team, the project or the plan.
Avoid asking questions that challenge a person’s success such as “Why weren’t you able to complete that task?” A better line of questioning would be “What do you need in order to complete the task on time?” or “How can I help you?”
After all, your goal as a leader is to unleash that inner super-star in your people. Your questions can be a significant part of that process, especially when they create clarity, focus, and creativity. A valuable bonus – good questions will strengthen your relationships.
Empowering questions also encourage people to go deeper, think more analytically, and critically. Best of all, those empowering questions lead to great solutions, strategies, and plans!
4. Ask about everything!
It doesn’t take much effort to see how valuable asking probing questions is. Lest you think questions are just for getting your people to do what you need them to do, here are some other areas to get curious and ask questions:
- Ask for feedback about how you are doing. What could you be doing better? If you are willing to hear it and eager to grow as a leader, this line of inquiry can be instrumental. Don’t be afraid to share what you are working on and invite them to help you in that process. It will build trust and make you much more relatable. You may even want to do a 360 evaluation – a process of getting anonymous feedback from those you work with that are over you, at the same level, as well as your direct reports.
- Ask about plans, processes, projects, etc.
- Ask about organizational culture, structure, processes, and practices. What’s working? What could be better?
- Ask how topics relate back to your purpose or mission.
- Ask about your team member’s individual goals. They will be incredibly more motivated to tackle what they take on if it is helping them to achieve their individual goals. Where would they like to be in the next year? Two years? Five years from now? Then, whenever possible, utilize them in ways that will enable them to pursue their goals.
- Encourage debate, and debate topics from different angles. Ask people to debate it from the perspective they believe in, as well as the one they are skeptical of. If done correctly, it will strengthen your team and broaden understanding!
Want to be a dynamic and influential leader? Then start asking thoughtful questions from a place brimming with curiosity! Then listen, really listen!
Preschoolers are pros at asking an extraordinary number of questions, displaying their natural curiosity. It is crazy that preschoolers have a skill that many leaders lack!
Perhaps one of the most influential leaders of all was Jesus. He asked many questions, and some of them were not easy to answer!
When it comes to your life and leadership, how would your influence expand if you asked more powerful questions?