My uncle fixed lawnmowers, chainsaws, and weed-eaters in his repair shop when I was growing up. For a kid who loved mechanical things, it was a great place to hang out.
I remember standing next to his workbench, peppering him with questions.
- How does that work?
- Why are you putting that there?
- What is that for?
- How do you know how to do that?
Once, he looked at me and said, “Brian, you ask a lot of questions.”
Most kids do.
According to Rolf Smith, children ask 125 questions per day.
Guess how many the average adult asks.
Maybe it’s because…
- We don’t like to admit our ignorance.
- Or, an authority figure told us to stop asking questions.
- Or, we just stopped being curious.
- Or, maybe Google has made it too easy to look for answers without asking another human.
Whatever the reason, leaders must reverse this trend.
For one, people love to be asked their perspective.
Asking someone for their perspective validates them. It says to them, “You know something about this that I don’t, or you are looking at it from a different point of view than I am, so you see it differently.” Either way, we all get more intelligent by asking questions, and you build team chemistry.
Secondly, I have never respected a leader less because they asked me a question.
I think back to my early twenties. My best leaders asked for my input, even though I had little wisdom or insight. The leaders I struggled with the most were those who always had the answer.
Not asking questions comes down to pride and the misguided notion that people will see me as weak if I ask for input. It’s a lie that gets in the way of finding the best answers.
The quality of our questions determines our future.
Have you ever been with a group and asked, “Where would you like to go eat?”
And the answer comes back, “I don’t care.”
So, what’s a better question? How about “What kind of food sounds good to you?”
The first question is a multiple choice with right and wrong answers. What if I say, “The Cheesecake Factory,” and you don’t like the factory?
The second question gets to what you want and moves the planning along.
If that question doesn’t work, try “What kind of food do you NOT want?” You will at least eliminate some options.
You are still trying to determine where to eat, but the quality of the questions prompts a different discussion.
I serve on the board of a food pantry. Right now, we are considering some significant changes.
Last night, I talked to a fellow board member, and he said, “I think we have enough information to make a list of five or six questions we need to have answered before we take the next step.”
The future of our pantry will be determined by the quality of those five or six questions.
One more thing: can you answer a two-question survey for me?
- What challenges are you facing as a leader right now?
- What is your role in your organization?