The ability to ask the right questions using an approach that is trusted and accepted is one of the great leadership skills.
It can lead to greater clarity, direction, understanding and comfort.
I was in a Skype meeting with a colleague of mine based in Ontario earlier in the week and we were discussing many things. One of the key themes that we deliberated over was the need to ask and answer ‘the right’ questions, that leads to a result that has clarity and can direct to effective and meaningful action.
Let me delve a little further to explain what I mean. As a coach and consultant I am required to help change or improve something, either for an individual client, team or organisation. This is what I do and seems quite clear. However, one of the key challenges that arise is when I am engaged for a purpose that is poorly understood and is not clearly articulated with any depth. This can sound like, “We know something needs to change, but we have not thought through how you can help”. I am not suggesting that a client is required to do my job for me. What I am stating is that definition of engagement is very important. This is as applicable to leading people where guidance and direction provide the platform for success.
Any question can be answered. Most problems have a solution. But, depending on the question asked, the response can be distorted or deliver a consequence that not was intended.
In a literal sense we see this in survey questions. A key word here, a phrase applied there and the outcome can be quite different. This is similar in leadership when developing team members, coaching, generating strategies and completing other tasks and actions applicable to the role. Depending on the question asked, you will get a certain response.
What this means is that we have to be very careful in our language and ensure it matches our intent. Not to the point of over analysis but with enough thought and preparation to ensure that the coach or leader is not phrasing the question to include or attach our own biases, beliefs and/or seek an anticipated outcome already established in our mind. This can be difficult, however is a skill that when practiced can lead to greater proficiency. It serves no purpose to be seeking a solution to a problem that is not clearly expressed.
Put another way, if you do not know why you are asking, why ask?
There must be a reason – what is the concern or trigger? A few key questions to ask that will provide greater certainty are:
- What does success look like? Understand what the expected outcomes look like and any ideas of projected outcomes. The detail is unlikely to be apparent at this stage, but a broad understanding should be understood by all parties involved.
- What has been tried previously? It may not mean that you won’t try them again but understanding prior assumptions and actions can save time and provide additional clarity to the situation.
- How will this be measured? Understand the base measurement. This helps to show impact and improvement and sets the starting point. If it cannot be measured additional questions need to be raised. When absent this can be a major red flag as it influences clarity, accountability and degrees of success.
- Who is going to help, if anyone? Is there a team or any other assistance required or being provided?
- Who are the key stakeholders? Understand who has a vested interest in the work and any outcomes. Assessment of checkpoints along the way is likely to include one or more of the stakeholders. In coaching, this can affect the process and a level of engagement, depending on whether the client being coached has engaged the coach or a third party (leader, business owner etc.) is involved.
Appropriate, well-timed questions in coaching and leadership can mean the difference in achieving outcomes and results with substance or provide weak, non-impacting conclusions. How well these questions are thought through and articulated and by putting some thought and time into preparation is worth the effort. The alternative is doubt, poor outcomes, reduced engagement and other negative consequences. What do you think?