How to Be a Better Leader with The Right Questions

They say Leaders are Readers.

That’s why I am in the midst of 3 books at the moment:

1) An Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

2) The Biography of Elon Musk

3) Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C Maxwell

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The aim of all 3 of these books is for me to expand my role as a “leader.”  I own a small business, or two.  This means I have people that work with me, and that I am trusted to do so much more than just sign their paycheck.  Did you notice how I used the words “work with me” instead of  “work for me”?  Nobody will ever work for you – they will always work for themselves, for their “Why” and that means they are with your team.

When you are clear that you are the leader and that everyone is in it together, you have already cleared a major hurdle of “leading humans.”  People want to know that you are a person, not a robo-boss.  They want to be treated with love and respect, just as you do.  I have learned much about leadership the last couple days from these 3 men, and their leadership style.

Elon Musk led by a vision, not by being human, and hurt many a person along the way.  His strength was in his persistence, not in human connections.  This cost him his role as CEO of more than one company and cost him  his ownership of the very well known company PayPal along the way because, in my opinion, he didn’t ask the right questions.

John C Maxwell on the other hand, leads with compassion, love, and most importantly great questions.  He states “The simple act of asking the right questions of the right people can provide crucial information, offer clarity and help you make better decisions.”  Wouldn’t we all want to make better decisions?

The insights people will give when you simply ask, “What do you think?” will frankly surprise you.   They will pour their heart out to tell you what you are doing right, and what you do wrong.  Nobody likes to be told what they are doing wrong, but I will always take a staff member telling me to course correct instead of a client telling me by never coming back for my services.

Maxwell asks this question at least a dozen times a day.  I admit I use it about half of that, but that is at least 200% more than I used to, #winning!!  I most frequently use it in our staff meetings.  We have big all-staff –team-meetings once per week, every week and a quick team huddle daily before each shift.  What this teaches your team when you do this on a regular basis is that you have a deep personal connection with them and itdemonstrates your openness and that you are coachable.  

This in turn will produce loyalty from your staff, open them up to changes you can make for the better and will break down barriers for the times you need to course correct them in teachable moments.

Other reasons Maxwell gives for asking “What do you think?”:

Gathering Information

Sometimes the question is as straightforward as it sounds. You as the head coach simply want good/better/new information.  Every person is not only talented and capable, but also a good thinker. Often ask what people think because you can and WILL learn from them.

By asking people on the team to tell you what they think, you can often gather additional information that gives you a better idea of what’s going on. This is like a head start in a race, #WinningAgain!  One of YOUR jobs as a leader is to piece these bits of information together into a complete picture to make the best and most informed decisions.
Confirming Intuition

Checking in with your gut and making a decision from there stems from a strong sense of intuition. We are all intuitive in our areas of strength; and asking these questions can validate that.  But what about things you are not strong in?  Wouldn’t you want others’ intuitions also?  Tap into other people’s strengths by asking them what their gut is saying.

Other people’s answers often put words to feelings and confirm intuition.  Further giving greater certainty to make decisions and taking away guesswork.  Other times people’s answers give you an idea to go a different direction or sparks an even better way of thinking.

Assessing Someone’s Judgment or Leadership

If someone can’t answer a question or give you an honest thought, they frankly just aren’t a good fit.  I would much rather a hundred weird or bad ideas than no ideas at all.  Team players, and people who lead by example are the people we want on our team.

Teaching How I Think

Let me say one more thing about asking people what they think about an idea or subject. When I ask the question, I always tell people why I’ve asked it, because that is one of the best ways to teach. Knowing people are not being judged and that you don’t have ulterior motives is huge for people.

I want my teammates to know that I think out loud and I think best when I have all information from as many different views as possible.  I want them to know that I trust them to make quick decisions and the right decisions and the more you ask, the more empowered they will be. Further down the road they will be fully enrolled into your vision without being directly asked.

Processing a Decision

Sometimes people need a number of different perspectives in order to discover the best choice. And sometimes they need time and reflection to process a decision. That has been true for me and for members of my team. Sometimes they have needed to move me along and convince me of a decision they believe in. Sometimes it’s the other way around, and I need to give them time to come around. The give and take is very healthy.

Questions are key to being a great leader, but sometimes all you need is just one question, one phrase to go back to time and again.  So we ask you now readers, What do you think about us?

What do you want/need to learn about most that we can create a future blog post about? Comment in the section below.

Guest Written by Associate Coach: Dr. Jay Breitlow

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