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The Questioning Leader

Most of us have been raised in a culture of believing the leader is the one with all of the answers and that we should defer to those answers. A mentor of mine shook that perspective years ago when he said, “Good leaders don’t find solutions to problems. Good leaders ask the right questions, so others can understand the problems.” Asking good questions leads to finding better questions to ask and better questions lead to vulnerability, collaboration, a sense of community, and trusting environments.

We have always needed to build trust and now, in a time when many people seem to be questioning if there is any organization/institution they can trust, leaders need to foster this characteristic more than ever. In the HBR article, Good Leadership is About Asking Good Questions, John Hagel III says, “You think you have the answers to all important questions? That suggests that you are either clueless — you have no idea how rapidly the world is changing — or that you are lying. In either case, you won’t find that trust that you’ve been looking for.”

So why don’t we naturally ask questions? Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Asking questions will show others I don’t know what I’m doing .

  • If I ask questions, others won’t trust my leadership.

  • It is my job to solve problems, not stir up more questions.

However, leadership research shows that these fears actually hold us back from becoming the leaders we want to be. Based on Brené Brown’s research, we know the that the myth that demonstrating vulnerability equates to demonstrating weakness is completely inaccurate. Her research, spelled out in Daring Greatly, actually shows that demonstrating vulnerability helps others to see our courage. It takes a strong person to be honest. She writes “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

So if we can get past our fears, what kind of questions do we ask? Hagel argues that questions that put people on the spot and show how smart you are are the opposite kind of questions a strong leader wants to ask. Instead think about open-ended questions that cause people to explore possibilities, dream, reframe current situations, and look beyond the obvious. Hagel provides some samples:

  • What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?

  • What are emerging unmet needs of our customers that could provide the foundation for an entirely new business?

  • How could we leverage the resources of third parties to address a broader range of the needs of our customers?

Asking questions signals you can be trusted. It also creates a learning environment where people come to understand that questions are honored and discovery is valued. Promoting a questioning environment gives others permission to have and to ask questions as well and it is in our seeking that we find common ground with others.

Emmy Beeson, The Change Coach, has dedicated her life to educating and serving others, knowing that by growing within, we can grow others in more significant ways. Emmy knows that by asking key questions, one can open up and discover a whole new way of approaching the world. If you're ready to look within, schedule a free strategy session with Emmy today.

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