Questions: The Leadership Power Tool

Volunteer wants, member needs, evolving markets, hectic schedules…there is never a shortage of stuff that keeps us from pausing and asking the questions we should be considering.

“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.” ~Peter Drucker

Questions are one of the most powerful leadership tools. Questions can serve as a catalyst to help you engage people, focus their energy and efforts around the critical challenges you are facing. Questions can help you to move your organization forward by:

  • Engaging people in revising a project; “Why do we do ___ this way?”
  • Exploring your next opportunity; “How are our member or market needs evolving?”
  • Identifying the next big thing; “What developments are we seeing that will impact our organization or our members in the next three to five years?
  • Solving your challenges; “How might we____?”

Maybe you aren’t ready to step into ‘big’ question discussions. What about the fundamental ones:

  • Who’s the audience?
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Why are we taking this on now?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the daily stuff or our urgency to jump in and do or fix a situation that we fail to ask even the basic questions. Remember the Five Ws you learned in school…who, what, when where and why? These are critical questions for work, helping people identify the information they need to successfully lead, manage or implement.

The simple act of questioning how, why or what can inspire people to think, explore and engage. These discussions can help you unlock challenges you’re facing, identify new opportunities, develop new understanding and inform smart decision making. Essentially make your organization stronger and more capable of generating new value for your members and community.

So, how do you get started?

Listen. It may sound trite, but check yourself on this. When colleagues or members are talking are you truly listening to what they are saying? Or maybe are you formulating your response, checking your phone, scanning the agenda to see how much longer the meeting might last?

Ask. After you’ve listened, ask a question to ensure your understand what your colleagues are saying. “How do we know ___?” “Why do we ___?” “What is the timeline?”

Enhancing the discussions taking place in your organization now will build comfort for exploring the big questions. Those questions that challenge you or your organization to look beyond what you’ve done, what you know and what people expect. The ones that require trust and a sense of safety for people to be willing to step up and share their ‘crazy’ or ‘half thought out’ idea, ask a ‘dumb’ question or be willing to admit that they just don’t know.

A few resources you might find helpful…

5 Strategy Questions Every Leader Should Make Time For, by Freek Vermeulen, Harvard Business Review Blog, September 3, 2015.

7 Things Great Listeners Do Differently by Travis Bradberry, Forbes/Leadership Online, February 29, 2016.

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