Last week, I was facilitating a planning session on sales goals for a client. The first question I asked the group of five participants was, “What does your company offer which is far and above what your competitors offer?” The discussion on just this question went on for about 20 minutes before I had to reel them in. Would you be surprised to learn they had never asked themselves this question? First of all, they were not really sure who their competitors were (that is an issue we are definitely going to work on). Secondly, they each had different ideas regarding what they offered which were superior to what the competition offered. These ranged from innovation and product development to the attitude of never declining a customer’s request for a customized prototype. Engaging a person or group in a series of questions has so many benefits. As a consultant and coach, I routinely ask my clients questions so they can unlock answers within themselves they didn’t have access to prior to the question being asked. Asking open-ended, curious questions, I’m convinced, is a mark of a truly successful leader. Questions unlock insight, opportunity, experience, and growth. Socrates said “the quality of person’s life will always be in direct proportion to the quality of the questions they are willing to ask of themselves.” The quality of the questions we ask determines the quality of the answers we receive. Questions allow us to learn and grow, connect with people, challenge our beliefs, improve the performance of our team, and develop better ideas. When was the last time you were asked a worthwhile or provoking question and you really thought deeply into the answer? When you did this, I am certain the answers that eventually came to you were fresh ideas you had not considered before.
As a leader, if you are not willing to be questioned by others, I suspect there is either a pride or fear issue plaguing you. When pride is present, the important thing is to appear smart and all-knowing in front of your audience. Leaders who have a pride issue have a hard time in situations where their ideas and actions can’t be proven right. Successful leaders are willing to be wrong, so they can learn and grow from the experience. When fear is present, the fear often inhibits vulnerability and keeps people from asking questions or having questions asked of them. When this happens, a leader, or anyone else for that matter, will not be able to receive the best answer or best information in a given situation. As renowned leadership author and consultant Brian Tracy has said, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.” Similarly, in his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, John Maxwell explains how “Any leader who asks the right questions of the right people has the potential to discover and develop great ideas…Making it a practice to ask the right people the right questions will allow you to develop ideas to a whole new level.” Questions allow us to see perspectives on a situation we hadn’t seen before. Successful leaders ask themselves questions, or are willing to work with a qualified coach who will ask the sometimes hard but fruitful questions that yield genuine results. Successful leaders also have mentors. These leaders take the time to develop strategic questions for their mentors because they know the quality of the answers depends on the quality of the questions. So, who do you rely on to ask the questions which stimulate deeper thinking on your part? If you can’t remember the last time you were asked a question which led to discovering something new and different, you are regressing instead of growing. Think about that carefully. One of the best ways to continually grow in your leadership — to increase your influence and achieve greater results — is to ensure you are asking and being asked great, insightful questions. Let me know how I can be of assistance. Best regards, Bill