The phrase, “giving someone the third degree,” came about sometime in the beginning of the 20th century and referred to the ruthless manner in which police interrogated people suspected of committing crimes. This was also about a century before Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder was quoted as saying, “The most subversive people are those who ask questions.”
Today, the role of questioning has evolved yet again and is being promoted as a valuable leadership tool.
The days of the know-it-all leader are long gone. Seeking and encouraging everyone’s input is not only empowering but vital to the success of business today.
Today’s successful leaders realize that asking the right questions helps solve problems. It’s certainly not subversive and can help grow the company faster and become more successful.
Some of today’s leaders find it awkward and difficult to open things up when it’s not part of their management style. Those who do will discover that doing so offers them time to make more well-thought-out decisions. Assigning others to do some of the work frees up more time to think about the most important things while the company moves forward and grows. One of the keys is assembling a group of managers with whom to bounce ideas around and ask questions of.
The most difficult and immediate adjustment will be in asking questions instead of simply announcing decisions. Leaders who ask the right questions will cultivate a body of managers who will learn how to make the right decisions. More importantly, they will understand what’s important to consider in the decision-making process. This is critical for leaders, even though they may know the answers beforehand in leading their managers to that same conclusion.
Asking questions at meetings often produces the same result even when leaders know the expected outcome. The difference is in the future leadership of the company. If staff is used to being told what to do rather than being asked, it can take a while for the culture to evolve. But as soon as managers become accustomed to this new format, engagement and participation will be something they all look forward to and will practice with their peers.
If staff hasn’t asked the right questions after some discussion at the next meeting, ask what they think should be done. Solicit opinions. Inquire if they all agree. If there’s disagreement, ask why. If everyone’s in agreement, that’s great and everyone can move forward. Where there’s a difference of opinion, talk it through before reaching a decision so that everyone has a sense of ownership.
The Key Point
The most important thing to remember is that in asking questions, even when the leader already knows the answer, other future leaders learn to think through the process and rationale behind things before arriving at a decision or opinion. Even simple questions like, “What would happen if we don’t give a discount?” or “What is our expected ROI if we do this?” can sometimes produce thought-provoking responses. The key is participation and group thought and input.
Leaders who employ questions and engage their future leaders not only ensure the future success of their company. They also equip their peers with the same tools that will empower them to do the same with their staff. Not only will they all have a stronger sense of ownership, but this empowerment can also foster more loyalty and reduce attrition.