The Power of the Question

Many leaders are talkers. Often what drives people into positions of leadership are the charismatic qualities and social tendencies they possess. Not always, but generally speaking, leaders can talk.

This is a great thing! Leaders need to be adept speakers who can communicate ideas to their teams and to the outside world. They need to be able to direct vision, encourage team members, and produce results.

But what may be more important is the ability to listen. And not just for team members or followers, but for leaders themselves. 

Some leaders can be found to be all mouth and no ears. This is problematic.

When a leader can speak well but not listen, you often see strained team members, disjointed vision, and a lack of unity. People begin to feel unheard (because they are) and tension might build. Funny enough, most of these types of leaders don't even notice this happening.

I think most people understand the need for listening in interpersonal relationships, but why is it so important for a leader? 

Today we're going to reverse the role of listening and speaking and see what happens. 

Think about it this way. The best leaders are investing into their team members. This means encouraging development and having conversations about hard things, good things, and even commendable things. Maybe this looks like check-in meetings, or mentoring sessions, or teaching points.

This is amazing. Team development is essential to a growing organization and team.

Typically, in these kinds of meetings, we see the leader talking a lot about their ideas or observations. What if in these same team meetings or one-on-one sessions, the leader did less talking and simply asked questions? This is the idea of coaching, rather than mentoring. 

In mentoring, the leader gives knowledge about their particular area of expertise. In coaching, the leader fields questions that helps the team member think about what they're doing, how they feel about their work, what areas need improvement, tangible and practical action steps, and so much more.

This takes the focus from the leader giving pointers about what they see and shifts it to allowing the team member to come upon these revelations themselves.

Why is this so important? Think about your own life. Sometimes it's helpful to have someone tell you necessary things, and there is still a place for leaders to do this, but isn't it so much more helpful for you to realize things based on your own analysis and experience?

This is because we usually think we know ourselves better than others (regardless of the validity of this idea) and when someone tells us something, we may try to justify. But when someone simply helps us form the thoughts we were already developing, the same basic points, and usually more, come from our own mind and heart and are so much more impactful.

Additionally, how often have you come away from a conversation with a peer or leader where simply talking through things helped you realize something you hadn't thought of before? This is the same idea. Questions help us dig deeper.

Now that we've discussed the importance of leaders asking questions, you're probably thinking how. How do I ask questions? What kinds of things do I say?

I am not a coaching expert and decided that rather than pretending that I was, I'd point you to far better resources from people that are. An amazing first place to start is this blog led by Benji. In it, Sam Farina discusses why asking questions is important and how to do it. There's even a live example of a coaching question between Sam and Benji.

To leave you with some last ideas, here are a few questions Sam gives us to ask ourselves in our daily lives as listening leaders and team members:

What have I missed?
What didn’t I see?
Where could I have thought bigger?
How does this move forward the mission my organization wants to accomplish?
Was I really listening in that conversation?