Leading with Wicked Questions

For decades, our leaders were expected to have all the answers.

Unfortunately, this “all-knowing” persona more often than not translated into a dictatorial, autocratic “Do as I tell you” type of leadership style. Sadly, at the time, this style was not only accepted but, in most cases encouraged, and even valued at all levels of an organization. As a result, we often found the level of personal accountability was lowered to the point where not only the power, but the ultimate responsibility lay at the top rather than dispersed throughout the entire organization. This limited creativity and ownership has led to many of the problems and challenges faced by organizations today.

Nowadays, this type of leadership is largely part of a bygone era.

The global business world is simply moving too quickly, and is far too complicated, for any one leader to possibly know it all. As Michael Marquardt writes in his important book entitled Leading with Questions – “We need to be able to resist the impulse to provide solutions and learn instead to ask questions”.

We totally agree with Professor Marquardt’s belief that the key to effective leadership in the coming decades will be the ability of leaders to ask the right questions, not have the right answers.

We have known for some time that, as leaders rise within an organization, their technical skills become more and more irrelevant, while their success is increasingly tied to their ability to develop a well-rounded suite of leadership competencies – including the ability to ask great questions.

According to the Harvard Business School, becoming a more effective listener is one of the most valuable tools a leader can develop, and the great news is that a leader can develop their listening ability by asking the right questions. In short, great questions provide the leader with important additional listening opportunities and, as a result, can expand their sphere of influence and understanding.

The leader who is able to ask an ever increasing number of questions, in order to expand their listening opportunities, will find numerous other side benefits including the ability to better understand the “mood” of the organization and the state of the culture as a whole.