“The leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask”, wrote Peter Drucker.

Leaders, I’m telling you.

Get asking questions now.   It will transform engagement. Creativity and performance.

With the complexity of issues facing society and the urgency of our sustainability agenda, you must move this muscle.

It is hugely encouraging when we see leaders transform through the simple and profound act of re-learning the skill of asking.   The difference it makes was clearly illustrated the other week on our leadership programme. When we started one cohort and finished another. The new group was tasked with a discussion about future trends but was unable to progress beyond their own agenda.  The other group however, equipped with new awareness and skills in dialogue was able to execute a challenge in record time. With high engagement and satisfaction. Through asking questions as opposed to advocating.

Leaders, are you tipping the balance?

Leaders, you are sought for your answers and advice. Opinions and wisdom.  We want to hear from you. And need to hear from you.   But if you are not aware, you can tip the balance and obstruct real discovery, learning and progress.

Halpern (2003) writing about clinical empathy, points outs that “doctors learn to suppress curiosity in order to take rapid, standardized histories”.   This gets in the way of doctors developing an empathetic relationship with their patients. Something which is shown to lead to better patient outcomes.

We can all find ourselves doing something similar. Perhaps using the excuse of time and task to squash our humanness to keep things manageable. Rather than taking the more courageous step of opening up to real connection. Of real understanding and change.

Connecting with our innate curiosity and asking questions, we see how transformation happens.  We open to another world. That of the other.  We see new perspectives, ideas, thoughts and possibilities. No longer seeking to control, we seek to explore.

We know it from our personal lives. At the dinner table, too much of the story teller, the expert or the talker becomes a monotonous meal. Instead of a delicious dinner conversation.   Asking and telling. It is part of the simple beauty of engaging with another. And the interactive dance between human beings.

Core of coaching

Asking questions as a result of deep listening and interest is also at the core of coaching. It helps raise the other’s self awareness. And is fundamental to unleashing potential.   Through powerful and pertinent questioning we draw out the other’s resourcefulness and sense of responsibility.  We help them generate their own options and solutions. Instead of ‘clipping their wings’ or creating a sense of dependency by confining them to our answer or view of the world.  Such an approach drives at the heart of real dialogue.  This is crucial for partnership working and achieving sustainable development goals.

So what can you do right now? 

As a first step, bring awareness to where you and your team are on the ask-tell spectrum.  Pay attention to where you default to under stress or time constraints. Observe the energy and quality in your conversations.

And reconnect with your own childhood curiosity using the inspiration of Rudyard Kipling who, being well aware of the power and magnificence of asking questions, wrote in The Elephant’s Child (1902),

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Sources:

  • Halpern, J (2003) What is clinical empathy? , Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 18,  670-674
  • Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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