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  • Andy Schultz

The importance of good questions

There is a widespread misconception that leaders make important decisions and that decision-making is owned by leaders rather than directing attention to the process itself.

To be honest, the most effective leaders I have encountered are those that set clear expectations, select the greatest candidates for positions inside their organization, have consistent hiring practices, excel at coaching, and have an underrated skill of learning by asking the appropriate questions. That's intentional—it sheds less light on them. In order to provide light for their team, who should be standing in the background, not obscuring their importance to the organization,.

Sincere curiosity and a desire to learn are the foundations of good questioning. It benefits team leaders, their organizations, and the cultures they create.

It benefits them because it enables them to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the teams. Being a leader requires continuous education. Excellent leaders, who are also perpetual learners, possess the concentration and discipline to effectively carry out their plans, a sincere enthusiasm for resolving complex problems, and the empathy to comprehend the happiness and sorrow of their team.

Making wise decisions requires learning more from people who have far more practical experience. Why wouldn't you concentrate on getting the most out of those you are hiring who are more knowledgeable than you in other areas of the company?

It's also great for the team to learn and ask insightful questions. There's nothing more irritating than team leaders who don't know how to use their team's experience or who don't want to take opposing opinions into account when making decisions. Building teams through questioning is a far better approach. From a young age, we learn that relying on others to solve our problems hinders the development of our own problem-solving skills.

Good questions that encourage team members to discover their own solutions rather than telling them are empowering. Plus, it's a delight witnessing team members grow and develop as they actively engage in problem-solving and critical thinking.

Inquiring also benefits the culture you are creating around yourself as a leader. Establishing a growth mindset and authentic curiosity in a culture can be challenging. Setting an example for others is the best approach to developing that culture.

Crafting questions

There is no short path to becoming an effective questioner or checklist definition of what constitutes a good question. There are certain traits, you and your team may find useful in identifying effective questions and through practice identifying terrible ones.

Excellent questions have three essential qualities:

  1. Sincere curiosity about learning and development is the foundation of good questions. Effective questioners lack preconceived notions about the correct answers to ask and no bias towards the responses they will get. Effective leaders are those who sincerely want to understand more about the topics being discussed, or who honestly don't know enough to ask insightful questions.

  1. Intelligent questions are well-reasoned. They challenge conventional ways of thinking and differ from clarifying questions, which are merely meant to help you grasp a term that was used, a fundamental fact that was covered, or an idea that was expressed. Well-informed questions are evident, but they are not necessarily evident at the outset. They challenge the status quo and assist a group in taking a closer look at a subject or approaching it from a different perspective.

  1. Well-crafted questions are designed to assume expert knowledge of the subject matter rather than to test the knowledge of the person answering them. They are intended to aid in understanding for you, the one making the inquiry. When the intent of a question is to challenge and not provide insight, most team members can identify this, which results in distractions to the conversation.

Personally, my ability to ask good questions requires constant work and practice. It is important to be open to different viewpoints and adapt my questioning style based on the situation. In doing so, I am able to foster a deeper understanding and drive meaningful conversations within the group. Ultimately, the art of asking good questions is a skill that can be honed over time.

A structure for fostering good questions

In these kinds of cases, the method matters almost as much as the questions.

Encourage a culture of trust. As a leader, the trust you establish with your team is the cornerstone of all conversations. Most advancements in the workplace are built on a foundation of trust. Did you genuinely believe in your team's knowledge? Do you know what your team members excel at? In what area do they excel more than you? Do they think your inquiries are based on genuine curiosity?

To codify trust, establish clear principles rather than guidelines. While guidelines are typically meant to assist individuals in adhering to rules, principles are meant to assist individuals in establishing rules that foster their own inquiry to the situation at hand. Having a clear set of expectations to evaluate against, operating under the same manual, and fostering trust with your team may all be achieved by encoding your principles.

Actively listen, give them room, and save your questions until last. If you're anything like me, you frequently become eager to add questions, comments, and viewpoints to the conversation. Your team will be able to share more easily if you record the chat with your questions. This shifts the conversation between the "content sharing" and "question asking" stages of a conversation. The only exception is when someone needs to ask a clarifying question in the middle of a presentation in order to better grasp the content.

Assume it's not them, but you, when your questions go unanswered. You have to presume that your team or presenters are well versed in the subject. However, it is your responsibility to formulate questions that open further investigation—not that of your group. In contrast to their lack of knowledge, you may not have worded the question correctly because you misunderstood the information being shared.

Create feedback mechanisms. No one is flawless. Evaluate whether your questions were well-received. On occasions where you have asked questions, gather feedback from your team in a simple anonymous survey. You'll be surprised at the honesty of the questions. After a crit, I once received a comment that my question, though initially unclear, sparked a valuable discussion that led to unexpected solutions after reviewing the existing user data.

Never ever say, "told you so." Like you, your team will make incorrect choices. It's almost always preferable to let them follow a course, even if it might not produce the finest outcomes. Never ever say to your team, "told you so," even if you suspect or knew that course wouldn't work. Don't allow them to approach it carelessly, either. Ask better questions, voice your disapproval, and discuss your ideas. Don't criticize them, even if they disagree with you. If they continue their path, encourage them to take chances. Something you always knew would not work out could at some point turn successful. If not celebrate their courage and the unintended result.

All the best and good luck!


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