A good teacher always asks great questions that force students to move beyond simple answers. It is this talent which is also required as a business leader.
Great leaders have to inspire the same curiosity, creativity, and deeper thinking in their employees that great teachers inspire in their students – and that starts with asking the right questions. Any answer is only as good as the question asked.
An article in hbr.org suggests a few questions that are valuable for anyone in a position to lead or influence others.
* We often jump to conclusions even without completely understanding what the other person had to say. This puts us at a risk of making faulty judgements, leaving key assumptions untested, and missing out on potential opportunities.
If something does not quite seem right it is advisable to ask 'wait, what?' which is critical in making informed judgements.
*Leaders have to remain curious about their organisations in order to bring new ideas to bear on longstanding challenges.
Wondering why something is the way it is will sometimes lead to an unsatisfactory answer—as in, we do it this way because it’s easier and that’s the way we have always done it. But asking “I wonder why…” is the first step in overcoming the inertia that can stifle growth and opportunity for leaders and employees alike.
* When you and your colleague are stuck in an issue, asking 'couldn't we atleast?' will help you out of it.
It can get you started on a first step, even if you are not entirely sure where you will end. Perhaps you might first find some common ground by asking: 'Couldn’t we at least agree on some basic principles?' or 'Couldn’t we at least begin, and re-evaluate at a later time?'
* While it is in the human nature to help others, most of the times we end up creating more problems than solving the one in hand.
When a colleague or direct report is complaining about an issue or expressing frustration, rather than jumping to offer solutions, try asking, “How can I help?” This forces your colleague to think clearly about the problem to be solved, and whether and how you can actually help. It helps your colleagues define the problem, which is the first step toward owning and solving it.
* When you feel that things are getting complicated the best way to simplify them is by asking 'What really matters?'.
Asking this often will not only make your work life smoother, but also help you find balance in the broader context of your life.
Leaders should train themselves to ask the above questions at the appropriate time. Though these are not the only questions that can be asked, they certainly matter a lot.