Reading an article by Summit Ministries brought to my attention the importance of questions. Questioning may be a defining characteristic of leadership verses kingship. At least this appears to be true in my mind.
The King speaks in statements:
- I don’t want to hear that.
- That is not true.
- It doesn’t matter what you or anyone else thinks.
- You are wrong.
The Leader communicates with questions (From the Summit Ministries article):
- What do you mean by that?
- How do you know that is true?
- Where do you get your information?
- What happens if you’re wrong?
The opportunity to ask verses making a statement provides a leader with advantages:
- Hearing a different perspective
- Gathering information to affirm or dispel what is known
- Establishes open communication within the organization
- Increases situational awareness
- Acknowledges and validates others
- Provides opportunity for growth and learning which cuts both ways
- Develops critical thinking skills
Michael Hyatt states, “The further you move up the chain-of-command, the less likely it is you will get the truth…If you are a leader in any capacity, you must develop a pipeline for unfiltered feedback.” Mr. Hyatt’s point is filtering occurs in the layers of management, culture, and perceptions. I agree.
Adding to this idea, there are more than external obstacles at work littering the path of information to our ears. We create some of these roadblocks ourselves. Our reactions, our busyness and inattention relays a message that I am not interested, it is unimportant, or “I am king.” Mr. Hyatt uses questions to clear the street.
Michael Hyatt’s questions:
- What do you like about [your organization’s name here] and want to see us continue?
- What do you not like about [your organization’s name here] and want to see us stop doing?
These are similar to questions asked in emergency response debriefings called “Hot Washes” (“Tail-board Talks” in the fire service). These take place after emergency responses all over the US, and possibly around the world. This questioning as represented in a book titled, “Crew Resource Management for the Fire Service” by Labnau & Okray:
- What did you do?
- What went wrong?
- What went right?
- What are we going to do about it?
Questions, if presented well, can alter our response to our employees. Presented well means strategic, significant and civil curiosity and not inquest. Good questioning can force a different pace and cause us to process what we are hearing. Asking pertinent questions requires listening, thinking and time for an answer. Steven Covey, “The Eight Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness,” says, “With people fast is slow and slow is fast.”
While putting this post together I took a break and walked out my front door. I was “noticin’ and wunderin,’” a Texas thing picked up from Mike Roberts. I observed a young lady pushing a stroller with what appeared to be a 2 or 3 year old.
Mom stopped the stroller in front of my neighbor’s house and ambled into the yard. She plucked a petal from a bloom on the Magnolia tree growin’ there. She walked back to the child and extended the petal toward the little girl. The girl reached out and took it.
“What is it?” the mom asked. I heard only a pause being unable to hear the response.
“What color is it?” Again, I heard silence. Then, “What does it smell like?” Quiet. “What does it feel like?” More conversation gap. “What shall we do with it?” The little girl discarded the petal and watched it flutter to the ground. Questions.
General Norman Schwarzkopf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a video, I cannot find with Google and YouTube, called “Take Charge” highlighting Norman Schwarzkopf, the General speaks of knowing organizational priorities. He performs an informal test and asks his direct reports what they believed were the top organizational priorities. He says he was affirmed. He extends his inquiry and asks the next level of officers and he claims, “I was surprised.” Questions.
Similar to the “Pizza with the Prez” which Michael Hyatt uses, I enjoy taking peers, direct reports and others out for lunch, to make customer site visits or to play “what if.” What if is a great game for emergency responders where you drive to a structure or facility and ask, “What if…a tornado, fire, flood, collapse happened here, what would we face; what would we do?” More questions.
Along the way I inject other questions. Here are some:
- What are organizational priorities for today?
- What are your priorities for today?
- How do they match organizational priorities?
- What one thing can I do today that will help you achieve these priorities?
- Who can we connect with to help us achieve these priorities?
- What do you see that I am missing?
Here are some more queries I use taken from the book “First Break All the Rules:What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman:
- Do you know what is expected of you at work?
- Do you have the equipment and supplies to do your job correctly?
- Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best when you are at work?
- In the last week have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does your supervisor or someone at work seem to care about you as a person?
- Is there someone here that encourages your development?
- Do you feel your opinions count?
- Does the mission/purpose of make you feel your job is important?
- Are your co-workers committed to doing quality work as you are?
- Do you have someone you can confide in here?
- Has someone talked to you about your progress here in the last six months?
- Do you feel you have had opportunities to grow in the last year?
Maybe while we are “Managing By Walking Around,” from “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters (I think), we could try “Leading By Asking Around?”
How are you leading with questions?
Please share with us the questions you are asking?
Resources and Related links:
Summit Ministries – http://www.summit.org/blogs/summit-announcements/rapid-response-confronting-cries-of-bigotry/
Four Ways Supervisors Frustrate Their Employees – http://michaelhyatt.com/four-ways-supervisors-frustrate-their-employees.html
20 Questions to Ask Other Leaders – http://michaelhyatt.com/20-questions-to-ask-other-leaders.html
Knowing the Difference Between Players and Pretenders – http://johnmaxwellonleadership.com/2012/05/14/knowing-the-difference-between-players-and-pretenders/
The 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership – http://michaelhyatt.com/012-the-5-marks-of-authentic-leadership-podcast.html
Mike Roberts – http://mbroberts.com/mikesbio.html