Too many people in business just expect their leaders to give orders. Maybe it’s for this reason that as professionals advance in their career, they tend to start asking fewer questions and providing more answers. Smart leaders, on the other hand, learn to ask more penetrating questions, listen carefully to expert input, and empower the right people to get the best solution.
This question-based leadership approach starts with humility and a firm belief in the old adage, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.” It also requires the confidence to challenge a questionable assertion from an outspoken team member, or ask the question that everyone else seems to be dancing around.
Here are seven key principles that I recommend you follow as an aspiring business leader or entrepreneur, based on my own experience in large companies as well as startups:
Proactively ask for input to hone your vision. No matter how strong your business and technology insights are, you can benefit from input at all levels of the organization, as well as outside experts and customers. This will also enable buy-in from all constituents, leading to their personal commitment in delivery. Everyone will see your vision as theirs.
Ask questions to enable team members to solve problems. People feel much more accountability and conviction to succeed with their own solutions, versus a solution imposed on them by someone else. When team member solutions work well, everyone wins, while top-down decisions provide minimal satisfaction and learning for the team.
Listen actively to team member input to foster mutual trust. This approach not only provides real value, but is important in building a culture of unity and collaboration. In trusted environments, failures are seen as learning experiments, rather than opportunities for punishment. Leaders who are always talking rarely learn anything new.
Use questions to coach and develop team members. The best leaders focus on coaching and mentoring people on decision making, rather than giving orders. By doing this, you'll help the whole organization make better decisions, and help individuals solve problems that are holding them back, learn new skills, and advance their careers.
Push decisions down the chain to the level responsible. The best leaders strive to match decision-making with the team responsible by asking the right questions. This results in better decisions, higher acclaim for the team and the leader, and it avoids the blame game. Ultimately, it creates leadership businesses as well as business leaders.
Inspire and motivate others to lead, not just work in your business. Motivated team members are much more likely to delight customers and create memorable customer experiences. At the same time, inspired team members providing answers will be more productive, satisfied, and loyal to the business. It’s a win-win situation for all constituents.
Build real relationships by asking questions. Quality questions provide a common ground for productive relationships with team members, rather than the shallow connection of following orders. Relationships with customers and partners are key to your own image, and the future of your business. Leaders grow through relationships.
Every executive realizes that there are not enough hours in a day to direct personally all the activities in a growing business. Some insist on continuing to make all the decisions, slowing down the business, making strategic mistakes, and injuring their health. The best learn to ask more questions, delegate more decisions, and grow a team of leaders within their organization.
By following the principles of question-based leadership, smart business leaders find more innovative ideas, more people committed to the right actions, and a business culture that can thrive in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. It’s time for all of us to ask more, listen more, learn more, and lead the way to our own success and satisfaction.
*** First published on Inc.com on 12/09/2016 ***