Great Leadership Requires Asking Questions
Posted on November 28, 2013 | By Matt Collins
So often we look to leaders to provide answers to the most challenging problems we face whether in politics or business. In fact, great leaders are those who instead ask the right questions and engage others to arrive at the best answers together.
The media overly promotes a single businessman, politician or sports star as responsible for overall success. As a result, it’s hard to think of Apple without Steve Jobs, J.P. Morgan without Jamie Dimon, and the current Denver Broncos without Payton Manning.
We tend to therefore associate the success of any group as overly reliant on those who lead them. Leaders are vital, of course, but the best are those who inspire others and share leadership to arrive at the most creative solutions.
Leaders play a pivotal role yet achieving success is predicated on getting more from the individuals they lead. This means engaging everyone to contribute fully because the best solutions come when the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
A recent Forbes magazine article discussed the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, and quoted the author as writing that the best multipliers “are leaders who bring out intelligence in others and get the best ideas and work out of the people they lead. ”
One of the trappings of leadership is thinking you have to have all the answers and that it is entirely up to you to provide people with the right answers. This is narrow-minded and it is detrimental to multiplier thinking.
“When a leader asks the questions,” says Wiseman, “they channel the energy and intelligence of their team on the challenge at hand, and they shift the burden of thinking onto others.”
Instead of looking to answer the big and important questions on his or her own, the multiplier asks provocative questions of the group and encourages them to work on it together. This engages employees like nothing else and no longer has them sitting on the sidelines awaiting the answer from their leader.
In his book Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer, he writes:
“The great gift we receive on the inner journey is the certain knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts in town, but some of them from time to time are even better than ours! On this inner journey we learn that we do not have too carry the whole load, that we can be empowered by sharing the load with others, and that sometimes we are even free to lay our part of the load down. On the inner journey we learn that co-creation leaves us free to do only what we are called and able to do, and to trust the rest to other hands. With that learning, we become leaders who cast less shadow and more light.”
Leaders who encourage this co-creation demonstrate humility in the face of the attention attributed entirely to them.
Jim Collins stated that great leaders are those who look out the window when things are going right, and in the mirror when things are not going right. It is this strength of character that enables great leaders to ignore the limelight society wants to throw upon them and instead diffuse it by sharing the glory with others with success and taking responsibility with failure.
This takes courage and patience. It takes resilience and persistence. And ultimately it takes trust that the individuals you lead have the ability to reach the best solutions collectively.
These best solutions require the best questions and a collective approach to reaching the answers.