Sunday, October 7, 2007

Understanding Leadership through Questioning

One of the most important things that you can do to improve your company is to ask the right questions in the right way.

Questioning strategies that improve the way employees and production process work include:
  • collaborating
  • experimenting
  • educating
  • reviewing.
There are many different ways that leaders can approach working with their employees. In the old style of organizations, leaders would direct rather than collaborate.

Leaders who direct have a hard time learning to ask questions. They tell others what to do and pack unsolicited advice into their conversations with subordinates. On the other hand, leaders who collaborate with their team do so by asking questions and using what they discover to improve the way the team operates.

A good piece of advice is to learn the difference between opinions and facts. Employees and co-workers are much more likely to be drawn into dialog with someone who knows the difference.

Leaders who understand what they don't know take the experimenter approach, using questions to learn. Leaders who think they know everything use their opinions as facts and don't listen to those who actually know.

Another hallmark of leadership is educating. When teachers start giving advice, they have failed as teachers. When leaders spell out what they believe to be true, with no room for inquiry, they are telling others what to do. But when leaders use step-by-step questions designed to let others figure out answers for themselves, they are educating.

The trickiest questioning strategy has to be employed when there is something wrong with someone's work. In the old school of management, leaders often served as inspectors. When they found a mistake, they pointed it out. "This is a mistake," they'd say. This accusatory manner makes people defensive and works against positive solutions.

Leaders who use reviewing as a questioning strategy learn how to ask the questions that get others to see the flaws in their own work. "How can you stop this problem from occurring?" or "What can you do to track down the source of the problem?" are inquiries that encourage participation and involvement.

By using a variety of questioning strategies to involve others in the production process, you can significantly improve quality and efficiency at your organization.

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