I am a strong believer in the power of ideas and of shared thinking. Any idea gets better when the right people get a chance to add to it and improve it. And good ideas can become great ones when people work together to improve them.

What is the key to shared thinking? Asking the right people the right questions. There’s great power in doing that. As speaker Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”

In my early years of pastoring I attended an idea exchange led by very successful pastors. The genius of this event was that successful leaders shared their best practices with others who had the chance to ask questions. Young up-and-coming pastors also got to share their fresh ideas with more experienced leaders, who gave them feedback. The atmosphere of the conference was that of contagious hope and creative thinking because the entire experience was based on questions. It was a place where ideas were being reshaped into even better ideas.

I never forgot that experience, and later it was the catalyst for a monthly mentoring group offered by The John Maxwell Company called the Table, in which hand-selected leaders talk with me. The group met recently at a huge one-of-a-kind round table at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation in Atlanta. It was a magical day with great people asking great questions and adding value to each other. Because the Table members are from all over North America, most months we meet by phone. The interaction is fantastic as we discuss tough leadership issues and sharpen one another.

As you bring people to your table to share ideas, be selective about whom you pick.

Choose people who…

  • Understand the value of questions
  • Desire the success of others
  • Add value to others’ thoughts
  • Are not threatened by others’ strengths
  • Can emotionally handle quick changes in the conversation
  • Understand their place of value at the table
  • Bring out the best thinking in the people around them
  • Have experienced success in the area under discussion
  • Leave the table with a “we” attitude, not a “me” attitude

Any leader who asks the right questions of the right people has the potential to discover and develop great ideas. Inventor Thomas Edison observed, “The ideas I use are mostly the ideas of people who don’t develop them.” Making it a practice to ask the right people the right questions will allow you to develop ideas to a whole new level.

Adapted from Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (October 2014)

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