So what makes a Good question?
My top ten attributes of a good question – especially from a Leader
- It doesn’t have a “right” answer in mind- be free of an agenda
- It’s open-ended- avoid asking the yes/no question
- It’s mired in possibility- “What would happen if…, How could we…etc.”
- It doesn’t use the word ‘why’ - Why puts people immediately on the defensive- and suggests they need to ‘explain their behavior’ (a variation of this is “What were you thinking? – That’s a ‘why’ disguised)
- It explores the employee’s perspective “Tell me more… Help me understand…etc.”
- Keep it simple
- Use the employee’s vocabulary – Don’t try to make them translate your jargon
- When exploring a difficult topic- try using an analogy or a story to break them from their construct – even something as simple as “What would you advise me/your best friend/the president to do in this situation?” We’ve all seen the WWJD bracelets- because they work!
- It assumes positive intent- we’ve all read the email with the snarky voice in our head- and it doesn’t turn out well – turn it around- we’re all doing the best we can, so ask the question with that perspective
- It moves the situation forward- ‘Post-mortems’ and ‘Lessons Learned’ are for after-the-fact analysis, which is great, but doesn’t help us in the here and now- so ask about the next step forward.
So, why ask questions? Collect the brilliance of your talent, develop them to take on more responsibility, put someone in charge so you can really take a vacation! Collect kudos when they get promoted. Life is a lot easier Leading with a Coach Approach, less work, less stress, happier and more engaged employees.
Great leaders are patient, listen well, and ask questions- truly wanting to hear the answer. They are not waiting for their turn to talk, jumping to conclusions, or making snap judgments. If you want to do that, you don’t need your employees, you’ve got it all under your control- command and control- the old, outdated model of leadership.