When I first began teaching leadership, I spent nearly all my time giving lectures. Today, at almost every speaking gig, people want time to ask me questions about leadership, which I welcome. Not only do I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, but answering questions also gives me an opportunity to speak from my heart. As people share their issues and concerns with vulnerability, I try to share my experiences with transparency. I always want to help people who want to make a difference.
I’ve come to enjoy and value this experience so much that I wanted to write a book all about questions. So I wrote Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, which comes out this October, to show the impact that questions have made on my life, share the leadership questions I ask myself and others, and answer questions from people from many countries, backgrounds, and professions.
If you want to be successful and reach your leadership potential, you need to embrace asking questions as a lifestyle. Because you only get answers to the questions you ask.
Have you ever failed to ask a question because you thought it might be dumb? I have! Too many times I’ve allowed my desire not to look foolish keep me from gaining knowledge that I needed. Richard Thalheimer, the founder of the Sharper Image, once asserted, “It is better to look uninformed than to be uninformed.” For that reason we need to curb our egos and ask questions, even at the risk of looking foolish.
If you’re worried that asking questions will make you look bad, let me give you some perspective. I enjoy reading Marilyn vos Savant’s column in Sunday’s Parade magazine. Listed in Guinness World Records for “Highest IQ,” she answers difficult and often bewildering questions from readers. In her column of July 29, 2007, she decided to share questions she found difficult to answer, not because they were too tough, but because—well, take a look:
- “I notice you have the same first name as Marilyn Monroe. Are you related?”
- “Do you think daylight-saving time could be contributing to global warming? The longer we have sunlight, the more it heats the atmosphere.”
- “I see falling stars nearly every night. They seem to come out of nowhere. Have stars ever fallen out of any known constellations?”
- “When I dream, why don’t I need my glasses to see?”
- “Can a ventriloquist converse with his dentist while his teeth are being worked on?”
- “I just observed a flock of geese flying in a ‘V’ formation. Is that the only letter they know?”
Now don’t you feel better about the quality of your questions?
If you want answers, you must ask questions. No one has helped me understand the value of questions more than my friend Bobb Biehl. In his book Asking Profound Questions, Bobb writes:
There is a gigantic difference between the person who has no questions to help him/her process situations and the person who has profound questions available. Here are a few of the differences:
|Without Profound Questions||With Profound Questions|
|Shallow answers||Profound answers|
|Lack of confidence||Life confidence|
|Poor decision making||Wise decision making|
|Live in mental fog||Crystal clear focus in life|
|Work on low priorities||Focused on high priorities|
|Immature processing||Mature processing|
Asking the right question of the right person at the right time is a powerful combination because the answers you receive set you up for success. IBM founder Thomas J. Watson said, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” But that’s true only if you are willing to ask the question.
Adapted from Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (October 2014)