In my previous piece, where I shared the story of how a past leadership failure helped me to learn to become a better listener, I pointed out that one of the keys to effective leadership is learning to be more inquisitive.
Now the importance of inquisitiveness in today’s leadership is fairly obvious considering how much faster we have to operate and make decisions, if not also how quickly things can change.
That’s where we gain the benefits from being more inquisitive, and not just in gaining clarity regarding the challenges and opportunities before us, but also in how this simple conversation tool helps to nurture and strengthen relationships with those we lead.
So how do we become more inquisitive in our leadership? Here are four steps to help you get started:
- Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no response
If there’s one thing leaders everywhere share in common it’s working within an environment where they face increasing demands on their time and attention, while at the same time being expected to make decisions as quickly as possible.
Taken together, these factors create conditions where it is easy for leaders to resort to asking questions that require only a yes/no answer. While these answers can help us act quickly, the problem is that they lack context or insights that can help us make more effective decisions and choices going forward.
Asking open-ended questions – like asking ‘what did our customer say?’ instead of ‘is our customer happy?’ – not only provides greater context, but it encourages a genuine engagement with those we lead, over interactions that are merely transactional in nature.
After all, the questions we ask shape not only our conversations, but the relationships we have with others (Twitter logoShare on Twitter).
- Be curious to find out what others know
While inquisitiveness is something we need to work at – especially in light of the frenzied pace by which many of us now have to operate at – there’s one tool we can use to help us with this process. And that tool is our sense of curiosity.
Although we might think of curiosity in terms of our childhood, the fact is all of us are hardwired to be curious, which is not only why mysteries and puzzle game apps remain popular, but also why serialized storytelling has become the norm for most TV shows. For all of these, it is our sense of curiosity that continues to draw us in to learn more.
In the case of become more inquisitive as leaders, you can use your sense of curiosity to shift your focus from trying to confirm what you know to seeking to learn what your employees know or have experienced.
In other words, asking questions ensures that we’re not just focusing on what we know, but also on what others know (Twitter logoShare on Twitter).
- Reflect on what you’ve learned from these interactions
No doubt one of the biggest hurdles many leaders face in becoming more inquisitive is dealing with a lack of time. But the challenge this presents is not limited to our ability to ask questions, but also to whether we are giving ourselves time to actually contemplate the insights gleaned from our queries.
One useful technique to help with this is to practice waiting before responding to what others tell you. For example, fight the urge to fill in those silent moments with your own thoughts, or worse interrupting others to speak your mind. Instead, use these moments to show the person that you’re truly interested in learning from what they have to say.
It is a simple technique but it is one that helps to illustrate a critical point about the importance of inquisitiveness in leadership. Namely that leader should ask questions not just to get information, but to learn from those they lead (Twitter logoShare on Twitter)
- Becoming inquisitive takes intentional practice
As with any behavioural shift, becoming more inquisitive in how we approach those conversations with our employees takes time and a lot of intentional practice. I know I sometimes catch myself in conversations where people ask me about my work not taking a break to shift the focus away from myself and back to the other person.
Unfortunately, science has shown that this tendency to focus inward on ourselves is something we’re all susceptible to experiencing. Researchers have found that the more we focus on our own achievements, the harder it becomes to take into account the perspective of those around us.
As leaders, it’s a given that people are interested in our perspective because they want to understand why certain decisions or choices are being made, and how we perceive things going forward.
But if we are to become more successful in our interactions with others – if we’re going to have any success tapping into the knowledge, skills, and insights of those we lead to better inform our decisions going forward – we need to make an intentional effort to make inquisitiveness a foundational stone in our leadership.
Indeed, being inquisitive as leaders sends a clear message that we care about what others has to say (Twitter logoShare on Twitter).
Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, once said “We run this company on questions, not answers.” Granted, given how their main product is a search engine, it makes sense that Google is a company driven by questions. However, there is a powerful leadership message in his words that all of us can learn from.
Namely, that to succeed in today’s faster-paced, ever-changing global market, our focus has to be less on the answers we have, and more on our ability to tap into what those we lead see and understand as being the challenges and opportunities that lie before us.
And the best way to tap into that wellspring of knowledge and insight is by learning to lead not with your answers, but by the questions you pose to those under your care.
Tanveer Naseer is a leadership coach, speaker and writer.