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How to use questions over answers?

"I will set up a meeting with one of my team members and tell him what I think" or "I really want to get some ideas for implementation. When someone in my team asks about the data behind my idea, I will tell them that's not relevant now and ask them to move on with our brainstorm". Just two statements I heard recently in conversations. 


I thought the traditional notion of leadership had evolved? Wasn't it no longer about commanding and directing, but rather about inspiring and empowering? Conceptually many leaders are on board with this way of leadership, but I don't see it in practice everywhere. Let's say that there is lots of room for improvement.


Why do leaders hesitate to ask questions? There are several reasons, including egocentrism, apathy, overconfidence, underestimating the benefits of effective questioning, or fear of appearing incompetent. 


In my view, the role of leaders extends beyond providing answers; it's also about asking the right questions. In today's complex world, being a leader requires a certain humbleness as they simply won't have all the answers. 


The power of questions

Why is asking questions more powerful than providing answers straight away? It's because questions ignite critical thinking, foster creativity, and empower individuals to find their own solutions. In a world where change is constant and challenges are diverse, the ability to think critically and problem-solve independently is invaluable.


Embracing a coaching leadership style is key to unlocking the full potential of your teams. Instead of dictating solutions, you guide your team members through thought-provoking questions that encourage them to explore possibilities, consider alternatives, and ultimately, arrive at their own conclusions. This approach not only builds confidence and self-reliance but also cultivates a culture of continuous learning and innovation.


Imagine a team where every member feels empowered to voice their ideas, tackle challenges head-on, and take ownership of their growth. That's the power of coaching leadership. By asking questions that challenge assumptions, broaden perspectives, and encourage reflection, you create an environment where individuals thrive, teams excel, and organizations innovate. Continue reading if that doesn't feel like you, your team or your organization. 


Embrace a coaching mindset 

While some people possess a natural knack for questioning, the majority of leaders could benefit from honing this skill. It starts with active listening. By truly listening to your team members, you gain insights into their strengths, aspirations, and areas for development. Armed with this understanding, you can ask questions that are tailored to each individual, sparking meaningful conversations and driving personal and professional growth.


Additionally, it's essential to create a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. This involves fostering open communication, providing constructive feedback, and acknowledging both successes and failures as opportunities for learning and growth.


As leader, your ultimate goal is not to have all the answers but to empower others to discover their own. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes your team wants to hear from you. Hear your answer or opinion. That's perfectly fine. When the time is right for that! 


Practice, practice, practice

The good news is that by asking questions, you can naturally enhance your emotional intelligence, which, in turn, makes you a better questioner. It's really a cycle of continuous improvement. To summarize, here are my five top tips for applying a coaching mindset:


  1. Active Listening: Engage fully in conversations and listen attentively to your team members' concerns, ideas, and perspectives without interrupting or judging. For many leaders it's very hard not to interrupt or judge. Try it in your next team meeting!

  2. Ask Powerful Questions: Encourage critical thinking and self-reflection by asking thought-provoking questions that prompt individuals to explore different options and consider potential outcomes. For your next meetings, write down a set of questions that you can ask. Be prepared and adapt. 

  3. Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer feedback that focuses on specific behaviors or actions rather than personal traits, and encourage self-assessment. You really need to prepare a feedback conversation. Write down your points and start mastering this skill. Forget the sandwich technique please!

  4. Empower Decision-Making: Give team members autonomy and responsibility to tackle tasks independently, while offering guidance and support as needed. Challenge yourself and ask yourself who in your team could benefit from a bit more freedom in decision-making?

  5. Promote Growth and Development: Support the professional growth of team members through mentorship, coaching sessions, or training programs tailored to their individual needs. Do you have a plan in place for your team members? Schedule a meeting with HR if you don't have it formalized. 


Let's challenge yourself to ask more and tell less, empowering your teams to think critically, explore possibilities, and unleash their creativity. 


P.S. If you want to elevate your impact as a leader and could use the support and accountability of a coach to that end, reach out for a no-obligation coaching consultation.


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