It’s easy to assume that as a manager, we’re expected to make all the decisions, give directions, and generally just be sure that things are getting done by our team. While there is a little bit of truth to that, the best leaders know that in order to truly be effective and successful you must do one thing really, really well… Ask good questions. And it doesn’t stop there. You must not only be asking great, thought-invoking questions, but then be ready to shut up and listen. This certainly sounds easier than it is.
You see, this is where the magic really happens. When we open up the space for others to think through decisions and develop answers, we are not only helping them grow, but we’re ultimately setting ourselves up for success as managers because they’ll be less likely to need to depend on us for decisions that don’t necessarily require our attention. This can be hard to do – and I’m the first person to admit that not having to have my hands in everything is an ongoing practice.
Let’s look at salespeople for instance... if every time a salesperson develops a new proposal, they have to go to you first for thoughts on the creative idea or the pricing, then what happens if you’re not there one day, and how much are you slowing down the process? How is this actually helping them grow professionally? And taking it one step further… is it possible that they might have a different, unique perspective that could actually make the proposal stronger? If you're hiring talented, smart people – then I would certainly hope so! They just might not have the confidence, or feel like they don’t have the blessing, to make these kinds of decisions, and that is not the kind of culture that is going to help people grow and flourish.
When it comes to asking questions, there are a few tactics I’ve learned over the years that can help:
- Ask one question at a time.
- Don’t over explain your question, just get to the point.
- Genuinely listen to and care about their answer (even if you initially disagree).
- Ask real questions that you actually want the answer to – not advice disguised as a question.
- Ask follow-up questions when it makes sense, like “Why do you feel that way?” or “If we did this, then what do you think would happen?”
- Ask questions that help them share something they already know.
- Ask about things you don’t know the answer to already.
- Allow for silence and pauses. Give them time to think.
- Authentically acknowledge the answers you get without chiming in with your own opinion.
- Return a question back to the asker if it’s something they are equipped to answer on their own.
I imagine many of you could add to this list (and please comment below if you have other tactics for asking great questions), but I think we can all agree that it starts with simply making this part of your everyday practice. With your own managers, with your peers, and with your employees. Shoot – I think the art of asking great questions is something that will also greatly improve our personal lives. Most of us are moving so quickly that we forget to stop and explore what others have to say. We’re not even active listening because we are waiting for our chance to say what’s on our mind. The more we can practice this skill in every aspect of our lives, the more we can show up as great leaders and great coaches further enabling others to shine.
Lastly, I’ll put this quote right here by John C. Maxwell who literally wrote the book on “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions:”