One of the things that trips us up about leadership is wanting our leaders to have the answers. We demand it, and so the story in our heads goes, ‘ hold on, if I am a good leader, I too should have the answers’. That story insists on a mindset that is certain, that believes it holds the truth. When you have labelled 'not having the answers' as poor leadership, it can be difficult to do an about face.
However leadership is not about having the answers, it’s about supporting learning, and that means asking good questions and carefully listening to the answers.
Einstein said 'No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.'
Good questions both inspire out-of-the-box thinking, and build relationships. People are empowered to step up, to help resolve problems.
Good questions also focus the inquiry, for example- do we ask, “What’s the problem with this project?' Or, ‘which of these objectives will be the easiest to accomplish- which the most difficult?' Or in the case of two departments that have poor communication, do we ask ‘how can we improve the communication process between Department A and Department B?’ or ‘why do we need good communication between Department A and B?' The thinking about the latter question may open up a different understanding about the relationship between A and B, and thus a very different view of possibilities for their communication, than the first question.
Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter said, "I don’t think almost any of the problems I see today would worry me, if we knew how to work together and how to think through problems together in a rational way that wove together fears and needs with a rational understanding of the world.”
Asking good questions then, requires the leader to put on the mindset of a learner rather than a judge, to ask and then humbly listen.
If we could all ponder every day the question ‘Why do I strongly believe what I believe’, we could create some consciousness around the ‘truths’ we hold, and learn to be more open, more curious and thus more able to work together with our problems in this fast-paced world.
Each session in our Women in Leadership Forum, we work with a practice to build our learning of a skill or capability.
This time our practice was to notice the questions we ask during our day, and to ask ourselves:
- What was my intention?
- What did I want the question to accomplish?
And then to consider
- Was the question empowering for the person questioned?
- Did my question show a learning rather than judging mindset?