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To Become a Better Leader, Turn Statements Into Questions

by Jo Miller

Leader ArticleWe’ve all worked with a boss who was overly reliant on statements, when posing a question could have produced better results. You know the type of boss I’m referring to. He or she assumes that management is about knowing all the answers, and that their job is to tell people what to do. “Here’s what I want done by next week,” the boss will say, or “Here’s where you went wrong.” But statements—even positive ones like “Well done, team.”—have a way of completing or closing down a conversation, whereas asking a thoughtfully chosen question can ignite a conversation, and encourage people to think, learn, problem-solve, act, or create.

Good Questions Wake People Up

In the book, Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, author Michael J. Marquardt writes: “Good questions wake people up. They prompt new ideas. They show people new places, new ways of doing things. They help us admit that we don’t know all the answers.”

As a leader, the minute you start believing that you have all the answers you stop being curious, stop being open to learning, and stop asking critical questions. And if you stifle your curiosity, you’ll miss out on gathering vital information about what’s going on in your business. You may also fail to spot opportunities or problems. Most importantly, when you stop asking questions, you send a message to your team that you don’t value what they have to say. By telling, not asking, you’ll ultimately lose their trust.

Transform Statements into Questions

If you’re looking for ways to keep your team engaged and encourage them to keep learning, start turning statements into questions. If you pay enough attention, you’ll see these opportunities everywhere. For example, if your team achieves a noteworthy success, you’ll probably say “Well done, team,” right? It’s almost second nature to praise people when they accomplish something outstanding.

But statements, of course, have a way of closing off a thought process. The conversation goes no further. So invite your team to reflect, and learn from their achievements. Follow up with questions such as:

• What did we learn from this success?

Asking open-ended questions encourages people to brainstorm and think creatively. And if you follow up with questions that are increasingly more specific, you help the team harness that creativity, while fostering a culture of taking ownership and action. To help employees feel more involved in the decision-making process, ask these questions:

• What did we learn that we can implement today?

• What did we learn that we can use to make us a stronger team?

• What did we learn that we can execute to win our next bid?

A Great Leader Asks Great Questions

To become a better leader, and to engage your team, catch yourself making statements. Challenge yourself to replace those statements with questions, or follow-up with questions. As Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter said: “A bad leader will tell people what to do. A good leader will ask questions and let his or her people figure out the answers. A great leader asks the questions that focus the intelligence of their team on the right problems.”


About the Contributor

Jomiller ThumbA leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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