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.

Today’s Focus

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. 

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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.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.