Friday, May 22, 2009

the right question

Leaders know how to ask the right questions. Our picture of leaders is often the one standing up front, making a speech or telling people what to do, and acting all "charismatic." But the leader who wants real followers will be the one asking questions, often from the back of the room, and listening deeply to the answers.

So what's the key to asking the RIGHT questions? A few thoughts:
  1. know what you want as a result of the answers - what is the outcome you (or others) want to have achieved as a result of the time together.
  2. believe deeply that others have good answers to give - if you are only asking questions to make people FEEL as if they have a part, the questions will be formed and asked half-heartedly...and the answers wil reflect the same.
  3. know your audience - prepare ahead of time by learning about and understanding the person/people with whom you will be talking.
  4. think through the questions - be sure the questions are actually questions and not statements...word the questions so they have the ability to elicit great responses...make the questions understandable the first time they are asked
  5. be ready to go with the flow - if the right questions are asked, you never know what the answers will be, so you need to be able to go where the answers lead...and ask follow up questions based on what you hear
  6. LISTEN CAREFULLY - if you ask good questions, you better be able to listen deeply and carefully, because good questions elicit good responses, which cause you as a leader to think and develop new ideas...if you listen carefully
  7. trust that the person will be honest in their answers - this is really about being empathetic with the other person/people. If they know you trust them, you become more trustworthy and thus they will be more honest in their answers, leading to a deeper dialogue
  8. engage in the dialogue - be willing to be a full participant in the question and answer session. Even though you are the one asking the questions, your full participation can more fully ensure their complete participation
  9. have the heart of a learner - questions arise when one is willing to be a learner. You can learn something from anyone, if you are able to ask questions thats elicit good responses

I once told my students that if they learned to ask the right questions they would be considered "gods and goddesses" in their worlds. I believe that the world belongs to those who know how to ask the right questions, and that it is a skill that can be learned. Go ahead and spend the rest of the day being a question asker - and watch people invest more of their lives in you and your leadership.

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