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Encouraging Questions: The Key To Success As A Leader

Encouraging Questions—The Key To Success As A Leader

Asking, "Does anyone have any questions?" after each agenda item at a staff meeting is pretty normal. It's also pretty normal for no one to ask any questions.  And, hey, who wants to prolong a staff meeting?

But whether it's a staff meeting, an informal chat over lunch or the end of an important one-on-one with a member of your staff, you can extend energy and encourage their questions. Here's how:  

  1. Pause in silence. Allow time to think of the question, to find the words and to get comfortable/confident asking it. Too often asking a question in front of managers and associates is a humbling experience. It need not be. The opportunities you allow your employees to ask and be comfortable in doing so reduce that humbling effect.
  2. Expand the invitation. Don't stop after "Does anyone have any...?" Help employees think of their questions by asking more specifically. "What do we need to ask about implementing...?" "What questions do we have about this new schedule...?" And, again, allow adequate time for the questions to emerge.
  3. Accept statements. The employee's questions may appear as statements. Some people are more comfortable stating what they want to know. Their curiosity represents questions even if they are not asked. You may ask questions like "What are we all curious (concerned, bothered, interested) by any aspect of this realignment?"

Great questions are always the keys to success.  By asking questions, we unearth thoughts and feelings that exist but are not present in the dialog.  Encouraging others to do the same is an essential element of being an effective leader.

In fact, in our Coaching practice, we routinely tell managers and executives that what they know about a given subject or situation is kind of a "so what".  What is really valuable is what others know.  What we know can be valuable when others do not share that specific knowledge but what others know and how they express it is where we learn about their capabilities, style, attitudes and abilities to execute effectively.

In face-to-face meetings, on videoconferences or teleconferences, do not be intimidated by silence.  Regardless of the wonders of all the technology, people still need time to contemplate.  Don't be in such a rush.  Remember, an important element of your job is to facilitate the dialog.  Help people learn from others.  Help your team members problem solve together.

And, yes, help your team members challenge you.  Who knows, someone on the team just may have a better idea.

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