Thursday, 05 October 2017 12:48

Great Questions to Ask When Learning from Others

John C. Maxwell, author of the bestselling leadership book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, explores the process by which CEOs, business leaders and others ask questions in order to grow personally and to become better leaders.

wooded dice 7430227 mlThis got us thinking about the kinds of questions that might help people in the hardwood lumber industry—and other B2B organizations and industries—improve operational processes, clarify strategies and enhance working conditions overall.

Here are key questions we ask ourselves from time to time, and which might help you in your leadership endeavors:

  • Is there a simpler way to get things done?  Businesses, like people, sometimes tend to over-complicate things to the point where it’s hard to imagine accomplishing objectives without layers of approval or bureaucracy. Leaders can play a key role in fighting this trend by asking everyone involved in a complex project to take a step back and ask themselves if there’s a simpler process for getting something done.
  • Are the underlying reasons for undertaking this project still valid or are other goals possible?  Questioning the status (or even the underlying purpose) behind a key initiative can also clarify thinking among participants. “This doesn’t mean that your questions can’t be tough and direct,” notes Forbes contributor Ron Ashkenas, “but the probing needs to be in the spirit of accelerating progress, illuminating unconscious assumptions and solving problems.” The goal isn’t full-scale disruption, but rather opening up perspectives that might lead to more streamlined ways of achieving a goal.
  • Can you explain to me how the solution will work?  Sometimes we plunge into a project convinced we have the answer to solving a specific problem. This often occurs in situations where our particular knowledge and expertise appear to point towards one solution, and one solution only. That’s when a leader can step in and ask for clarification on what the solution will look like.

The answers you get may expose gaps in knowledge or unquestioned assumptions that might work against progress at a later point. But “when people explain things it requires them to think them through again, often at a deeper level,” says leadership expert Gordon Tredgold, “and I have often seen this increase their understanding of the solution” or spot an issue “that they were previously not aware of.”

Other key questions may be effective in dislodging hidden assumptions or conventional ways of thinking. Such inquiries can encompass:

  • Questions about the company itself, i.e., asking employees, “If you were in charge, what would you do differently?”
  • Questions about established bureaucratic practices, i.e., asking employees, “What layers of review or approval should we abolish in order to move faster to market?”
  • Questions you can ask yourself, i.e., “What assumptions do I bring to work every day about our business? What different ways of thinking and processing information might work better for me?”

We have written on the benefits of asking great questions in the past. When you are in the habit of asking great questions, you should also be prepared to listen—truly listen—to the answers you get. Aim to reduce the “internal dialogue” going on in your head when someone else is talking, as well as the impulse to jump in before that person has finished answering your question. These traits only get in the way of a fruitful exchange of information.

What questions do you find helpful when trying to lead others?

Tony Cimorelli
Baillie Lumber
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