I was a curious child who sometimes got into trouble with my questions (I heard “children shouldn’t ask those questions” or “you’ll learn about that when you grow up”). Not one to let what I was told dampen my curiosity, I began my career as a laboratory biologist, where asking questions is foundational to important insights.
At some point, my ambition got the better of me, leading me into other career choices where asking questions wasn’t always embraced. I did my best to fit in, not always asking the questions that I should have. If I couldn’t be curious and bring others along on that ride to discovery, I knew it was a tradeoff – more prestige for leaving questions behind – I’m embarrassed to admit that today.
More than a decade ago a wakeup call that I wasn’t on the right track happened when I lost my corporate position in an acquisition and I discovered that coaching was a way to use questions to guide and help others. Not only is the use of questions foundational to the work I do as a coach, I often have the opportunity to teach leaders the art of asking great questions.
This post is written to honor those leaders who courageously question themselves, their followers, and the organizations they belong to. They’re making a difference in a world of answers that are all too easy to come by. You can now find ready answers to anything; so those leaders who pride themselves on their knowledge may be left behind. Those who ask will be in demand.
Leaders who question:
Deepen self-awareness: Making the effort ask themselves questions about their motivations, thoughts, drivers, and values helps questioning leaders to deepen their self-knowledge. This deepening is essential to their ability to capitalize on their strengths and become aware of personal weaknesses while remaining true, authentic, and ethical. What question can you ask yourself that would set you free?
Develop relationships: The very act of asking someone a question is a way to develop, deepen and build trusting relationships. When someone is asked a question, it means that the asker is confident that they have an answer, creating a bond. What relationships, when bonded through questions, do you need to develop?
Learn on the fly: In this crazy world filled with speed-of-light actions and decisions, pausing to ask questions brings insight and learning. Sometimes all it takes is a well-placed question for the right answer to appear and great learning to happen. What insight might be possible if you asked more questions?
Help others to help themselves: A good question can help others to become more independent, to learn to think, educate themselves and take responsibility for their actions. What question can you ask your employees that will help them to become more engaged and responsible?
Change the world: Einstein asked himself what he would see if he rode on a beam of light. Newton asked why the apple fell. Robert Kennedy asked why not?. What is the question you need to ask that will change the world?
Here’s to the leaders who ask questions; we honor you as you change yourself and the world around you.
This post was inspired by my clients who question as well as the new book A More Beautiful Question by author Warren Berger who provided a complimentary copy. I’m hoping you’ll hear more from him about beautiful questions here soon.