Leading by Asking

Sometimes we need to learn to lead by asking. As a leader, we need to correctly frame the question, so that those we are leading will get the answer themselves.

By asking questions, we are helping those we are leading to draw their own conclusions. In fact, we are providing direction, by asking them to form an opinion.

In truth, this works, whether you are leading from authority, or influence. If you are leading from a position of authority (you are the boss), as it helps develop your staff's self-sufficiency. They learn what is important to you based on your questions. They learn (over time) how to ask the questions of themselves. Your staff take ownership of the answer.

Give this a try. Instead of directing by telling someone what to do and how to do it, ask them "What needs to be done?" and "Why that is important?" Let them articulate their own thoughts on the subject. You can steer their thinking by asking additional questions like, "How are you going to handle this problem?", or "How does your solution accomplish some goal?" These questions allow us to understand and influence their thinking, as opposed to merely directing their doing.

If you are leading from a position of influence (meaning you are a peer or subordinate to those whom you are leading), this also works, because those in positions of authority can take ownership of the answers.

Try this out: Instead of proposing a solution to a problem in front of a group of powerful or politically motivated managers or executives, ask the following question: "What criteria are we going to use to measure the success of any solution to this problem?" or "What goals should we be striving to achieve while solving this problem?". These questions get hidden agendas out in the open where they can be discussed. We can steer this conversation by asking follow on questions like: "Why is that criteria or goal important?" or "How important is that goal or criteria relative to the others?" These questions allow us to expose their thinking, as opposed to proposing solutions or answers and getting shut down by ideas that never made it to the table.

Questions help frame the problem. They help focus attention on decisions that need to be made, problems that need to be solved. Questions allow a conversation to be steered by opening decision points; forks in the road or intersections requiring decision. Questions increase the number of choices. Answers limit the number of choices.
Questions allow us to explore the thoughts of others, where as answers allow us to expose our own thinking.

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