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The Most Effective Managers Ask Questions

It’s not about doing. It’s not about telling. To build competence, confidence, and capacity, rockstar managers ask questions to engage, teach, and motivate employees.

Servant leadership has become a popular idea for people in management, like our library director. It sounds nice and makes those who are uncomfortable with titular authority feel better about the work they do. They’ll describe their approach as “rolling up my sleeves” or “working in the trenches alongside employees.” In practice, they’ll continue doing the work of frontline contributors, filling in when there are absences or vacancies, and handling anything that employees deem difficult.Figure asks another a question about options.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First, it doesn’t work. It creates huge voids because the work of managing is not being done. Second, it’s not a true representation of servant leadership. The original researcher and author of The Servant as Leader was Robert Greenleaf. He measured leadership effectiveness by the impact a leader had on others’ development, knowledge, autonomy, and performance.

When working alongside employees to relieve their burden, managers suppress opportunities for growth and development. They diminish growth by limiting the very challenges that stimulate growth.

Similarly, when managers are too quick to answer questions and solve problems, they deprive employees of experiences that would build autonomy, expand capacity, and improve individual performance. Without intending to, these managers cap potential.

When Managers Ask Questions They Unlock Value

This passage from Harvard Business Review encapsulates the specifics about why questions are particularly important for those in management positions.

“Much of an executive’s workday is spent asking others for information – requesting status updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed.”

“That’s a missed opportunity. Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: it spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.”

This is a snippet from the new book, DISCOVER Questions® for Connections, Clarity & Control, available on Amazon.