My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. It starts by building the case for questions (‘The Power of Questions’) and examines the common thread between the disasters of the Titanic, the Challenger and the Bay of Pigs – the inability or unwillingness of key participants to raise questions about their concerns. The later parts of the book provide useful practical advice and examples for leaders to make better use of questions in managing people, building teams and enabling change. As I made my way through the book I was able to identify many opportunities/situations that I could imagine using (or wish I’d used) the suggested questions.
My notes from Leading with Questions
[Disclaimer: The notes below are rough, and may be a mixture of direct quotes, paraphrasing, and my own thoughts/ideas/reminders. They’re written here primarily for me (so they may not make much sense out of context, especially for those who haven’t read the book)].
(28) When we ask questions of others and invite them to search for answers with us, we are not just sharing information, we are sharing responsibility. A questioning culture is a culture in which responsibility is shared, ideas are shared, problems are shared, and ownership of results is shared.
(29) 6 hallmarks of a questioning culture. People in it:
- are willing to admit, “I don’t know”
- go beyond allowing questions, they encourage questions
- help to develop the skills needed to ask questions in a positive way
- focus on asking empowering questions and avoiding disempowering questions
- emphasis the process of asking questions and searching for answers rather than finding the ‘right’ answers
- accept and reward risk-taking
(29) …deep and significant learning only occurs as a result of reflection, and reflection is not possible without a question – whether the question be from an external or internal source.
(36) Leaders who promote a questioning culture in their organisations move people from dependence to independence.
Why We Have Trouble With Questions
- desire to protect ourselves
- in a rush
- lack skills
- culture/working environment that discourages questions
(57) Asking good questions requires to critical skills. Must know:
- what questions to ask
- how to ask them
Asking the Right Questions
(63) The words we choose are metaphors for concepts that define our attitudes and behaviours, structures and concepts.
The questions we employ provide feedback about which values should be attended to and how much energy should be devoted to them.
(64) Questions that disempower focus on the reasons why the person did not or cannot succeed.
(65) … in empowering others, the leader has to resist the urge to give people advice. When people ask for help, the leader needs to ask questions so that they come up with their own answers.
- how do you feel about the project thus far?
- what have you accomplished so far that you are most pleased with?
- how would you describe the way you want this project to turn out?
- which of these objectives do you think will be easiest to accomplish? which will be most difficult?
- what key things need to happen to achieve the objective? what kind of support do you need to assure success?
(65-66) What constitutes a great questions:
- focus and stretch
- deep reflection
- generate courage and strength
- challenge taken-for-granted assumptions
- open doors in the mind
- test assumptions
- generate positive and powerful action.
(66) Great questions are selfless, not asked to illustrate the cleverness of the questioner or to generate information or an interesting response to the questioner. They are generally supportive, insightful and challenging. They are often unpresumptuous and offered in a sharing spirit.
“What’s on your mind? Can you tell me about that? Can you help me understand? What should we be worried about?”
- what is a viable alternative?
- what are the advantages and disadvantages you see in this suggestion?
- can you more fully describe your concerns?
- what are your goals?
- what will you commit to do by when?
(69) When asking open-ended questions one must be ready and willing to listen to the response which may take a while to unfold.
Useful phrases to use with open-ended questions:
- What do you think about..?
- Could you say more about…?
- What might happen if you…?
- What have you tried before?
- What do you want to do next?
(70) When asking questions, the leader should watch the tone of voice. The why question should indicate curiosity and search for knowledge, and not anger or frustration.
- Can that be done in any other way?
- What do we expect to happen if we do that?
- What is stopping us?
At Toyota employees are taught to think ‘why’ consecutively five times. Cause & effect thinking.
(71-72) Types of open-ended questions:
- explorative (have you thought about…?)
- affective (share feelings)
- probing (describe, explain, clarify, elaborate or expand)
- fresh (why must it be done that way?)
- create connections (what are the consequences…?)
- analytical (why did it happen?)
(73) Content (the data used) or process (how) issues. Most leaders focus on content questions – they come more naturally. Preferred sequence – start with process and then proceed to content.
Control – leaders who like to maintain control tend to focus on closed questions.
(74) Closed questions (direct) can quickly clarify a situation. Help bring exploratory discussions launched by open-ended questions down to earth and help move group forward.
(75) Besides disempowering questions, two other types of questions that are not helpful from the leader – leading questions or multiple questions. The problem
with leading questions is that they are not genuine attempts to seek information, they are not-so-subtle efforts to influence, persuade, or coerce agreement.
The Art of Asking Questions
(77) Two type s of mindset – learner & judger.
(78) Leaders with the judging mentality tend to believe they know the answers already.
(79) Leaders with leaner mindsets ask genuine questions, that is questions to which they don’t already know the answers.
(81) Effective leaders know that the question of ‘who’ must often be left off the table to get accurate answers to the questions of ‘what’ and ‘why’.
(86) Setting the stage – be forthright in saying the purpose of the conversation is to learn, not to judge.
Explain what you hope the outcome of the conversation will be… “I hope to get a better understanding of why we are having this problem”, “I want to understand how you feel about my plan”.
Think about the ‘quest’ in your questions.
(93) Ask the other person for permission to allow you to explore any weaknesses in the reasoning. The idea with this strategy is to encourage the other person to examine the argument with you.
(94) … a leader who relies on questions alone will ultimately be viewed as insincere and not trustworthy. The power of questions can only be realised through learning, follow up and change.
Creating a Questioning Culture
(104) When we encourage dialogue we affirm intellectual capability not only of the individual but also of the team and organisation. We acknowledge that people are all blind to their own tacit assumptions and need help of others to see them.
(105) Learning to lead is about discovering what you care about and what you value.
- What inspires us?
- What challenges us?
- What encourages us?
- What gives us courage to continue in the face of uncertainty and adversity?
- How will we handle disappointments, mistakes and setbacks?
- What do we need to do to improve our abilities to move the organisation forward?
- How can we keep ourselves motivated and encouraged?
- What are our beliefs about how people ought to conduct the affairs of our organisation?
- Where do we think the organisation ought to be headed over the next ten years?
(106) Organisation values should emerge from a process, not from a pronouncement.
(108) Questioning leaders… want everyone to succeed and to learn from so doing… Leaders should see colleagues and staff as capable of much more than they presently do.
(109) Resistance – answer dependency (people who are used to having the leader tell them answers) & telling dependency (leaders who see their source of power as stemming from giving answers).
(110) Be honest and upfront. Tell those you lead that you’ve been rethinking your leadership style and that one of the things you are exploring is the value of being a leader who asks questions.
(111) How do you feel when I ask you questions?
Using Questions in Managing People
- How can I help you? (clarifies immediately what the person wants)
- What would you do?
- What would someone else do?
(120) Reflection involves recalling, thinking, pulling apart, making sense, and trying to understand.
(123) What have you done today to develop your leadership skills?
- What do we need to accomplish?
- What do you think is realistic?
- How are you planning to accomplish this objective?
- What kind of help do you need?
- Suppose we did it this way? What would happen?
(126-127) Questions for performance appraisals:
- How does your work contribute to our success?
- How could your job more effective?
- What is your goal?
- What is your performance?
- Is there a gap?
- What caused the gap?
- For the next month, to close a negative gap or preserve a positive difference, what will you keep doing, start doing, and stop doing?
(128) If constructive feedback is needed, the best approach is to ask people what they think should be worked on. In most situations, employees are very aware of their shortcomings.
(129) Conversation around 6 discussion points. I tell you what I think, you tell me what you think…
- Where are we going?
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing well?
- What suggestions for improvement do you have for yourself?
- How can I help you?
- What suggestions do you have for me?