What transforms an executive, an entrepreneur or an advocate into an extraordinary leader who achieves outstanding results? Some say it is their vision. Others say that they are great speakers and communicators. And many insiders say they are delegators. All of the above are attributes of great leaders, but what ability truly differentiates the good leaders from the great ones?
The great leaders are consistent QUESTIONERS. Surprisingly, it is not one’s ability to have all the ANSWERS that determines a leader’s success. In fact, it is their ability to ASK QUESTIONS – both questioning themselves and those around them. It was Albert Einstein who said it best when he said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Why are answers valued more than questions? Once children learn to talk, they start asking questions constantly. Beginning at the age of two children’s curiosity has them asking as many as 100 questions/day. Parents often show annoyance and tell their children to stop asking questions. This negative feedback continues when they attend school where the education system rewards children for getting the right answers and rarely reinforces the inquiry process. By the time we are adults, we believe we need to have all the ‘correct’ answers to be successful. Creativity and innovation experts tell us that it is the questions not the answers that produce the most profound and innovative products and solutions.
Most of us need to reprogram our conversations, as well as our leadership and management styles to make questioning an important tool for the success of companies, institutions and individuals. This is validated in many books by experts such as Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations, and Power Questions by Andrew Sobel. Stephen Covey tells us in his best selling book, that Habit #5 is ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, ’ perhaps one of the greatest management tools. In Vistage CEO peer advisory groups, for which I chair a group in New York City, the primary focus of solving business challenges is based on asking questions in order to reach solutions. In my own book, Link Out, I explain that focusing on asking others questions, rather than talking about ourselves is the key to building strong trusted relationships.
So where do you start? Fire up your innate curiosity about your team, your friends, your clients, your potential customers. Think of yourself as a “learner” instead of a “judger” as Marilee Adams says in her enlightening book, Change Your Questions Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work. Adams’ book is my current favorite reading and I highly recommend it. When we make non-judgmental, open-ended questions from a curiosity point-of-view, we can lead like the greatest leaders, manage the most successful teams and thrive in our personal and business relationships. It’s amazing the answers we get, when we ask the ‘right’ questions. —Leslie Grossman, Vistage Chair, author of Link Out: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections, www.lesliegrossmanleadership.com