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Do you think that this is a good question?

4 Comments

In times of uncertainty, many people long for definite answers and clear leadership.

There are times when such an approach is warranted, but history has shown that all too often after short-term gains, long-term oppression and regression arise.

If business is to become more conscious, it cannot be forced but must be evoked from within people. Pull not push. And if we believe that humans are both limited and ‘built for growth,’ we have to consider how these factors shape our approach to increasing such consciousness.

I think that key to this is the use of questions rather than the provision of answers. By adopting this method, we are helping each other think more. Hard work at times, but in the long term I’m convinced it will produce better results.

So a key issue is to learn to ask not just questions but the right questions. To do this, we must apply the ‘questions are more important than answers’ approach to ourselves. It doesn’t matter how good an ‘answer’ is, if it is an answer to the wrong question it is at best useless, and at worst regressive.

Let’s ask ourselves what evidence we have that asking questions is such a good way to encourage growth. Here are some reasons:

1 Coaching – the best coaching I have received has been when I have been asked questions. My initial reaction was, “Hm, I paid for answers to my issues not questions!” But as the wise coach persisted with questions, my own ability to think about possible solutions developed, and most importantly, my belief grew that I could think differently, take action and see some change in my situation and that of my business.

2 Knowledge v Wisdom. – we seem to live in a society that is rich in knowledge but poor in wisdom. I think that in good measure knowledge comes from an ‘answers’ approach, wisdom from a ‘questions’ one.

3 Socrates – one of the founders of Western philosophy, a major contribution of his was the Socratic Method, whereby a series of questions are asked not only to draw individual answers, but also to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand. This is shown (at length…) in Plato’s Republic, where Socrates is the questioning mouthpiece for the message of that work.

4 Jesus – Christians claim that Jesus was God himself. So surely, he would have the ‘answers’ and would give them to us. Well, he certainly did give some very clear answers, but the Bible records him asking people nearly 300 questions. If such an approach was good enough for him, …

5 Pascal – a great quote from him: “All of man’s problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room.” We want noise and answers, rather than quiet and questions.

6 Delegation – if done properly, this costs in the short-term, but pays dividends in the long-term. I have found Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership model helpful in thinking about management and delegation, and the use of questions is a key part of this approach, particularly at the later stages of development.

Apart from the Situational Leadership model, I have also found the following helpful in trying to become someone who leads more with questions:

1 Kipling’s six honest serving men.

2 Covey’s seek first to understand.

3 Read, read, read.

4 Expose yourself to new ideas by developing weak as well as strong links.

By continually adopting a ‘questions’ approach, we shall develop our own and other people’s thinking ‘muscles.’ It is harder work in the short-term, but will produce better results in the long run. It can also help us all break out of stuck thinking.

As Steve McDermott has said in one of my very favourite books (How to be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work and Everything: 44 ½ Steps to Lasting Underachievement), the quality of our life will be in direct proportion to the quality and depth of questions we ask ourselves on a regular basis.

What do you think?

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Author: jthove

I am deeply interested in personal and organisational growth and development, and seek to read widely on these subjects.

4 thoughts on “Do you think that this is a good question?

  1. You know I completely agree with you John, questions are terrifically valuable.

    But I couldn’t resist also posting this short list of some of the other reasons people ask questions (comes from a chap called Marc Dulude, who I saw speak at MIT some years ago):

    Why do people ask questions:

    – To learn from the answer
    – To lead the discussion
    – To demonstrate their own knowledge
    – Intellectual laziness
    – As a message transfer vehicle
    – To reaffirm their position
    – The inquisition
    – Rhetorical questions
    – To demonstrate interest
    – Social interaction

  2. I agree that questions are a powerful way of evoking evolutionary leaps in the mind – with a brilliant, searching question, people dip inwards and aspects of themselves are revealed that they did not know were there. So too for conscious leadership. It does certainly seem to warrant a pull rather than a push approach, unless of course a leader is ready to hear the message about conscious leadership – for many other leaders, it is just a bit too far in the left-field that you could push until the cows came home and you would simply succeed in causing resistance and pushing them away.

    Two resources on the importance of brilliant, evocative questions come to mind: Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to Think’ and the book Conscious Leadership by the Bowmans in Australia.

    Best wishes
    Gina
    http://www.theconsciousleadershipconsultancy

  3. I love the Pascal quotation, thanks for that.

    And asking questions is all very well unless you are able to listen to the answers – as Nancy Kline says “Most people aren’t really listening, they’re getting ready to talk”.

    So how well do we listen with an “open heart and a quiet mind”?

    I’d like to be able to identify the author of these blogs, by the way. It feels asymmetrical that commentors give their name but author not!

  4. I agree Alister.

    The best formulation I heard of this was from Chris Argyris who said (I think) “People don’t listen; they reload.”

    Re: identifying the authors of the posts if you float your cursor over the photo of the person (or funny squiqqly drawing if they don’t have one) a profile should appear (it does for me anyway).

    It would be great to create a rogues gallery of the authors somewhere – you can at the moment see some of the authors (not sure if it is the full list) on the “Who” page.

    Pete

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