Good leaders ask great questions

Two leaders whom I respect a great deal and whose work I have studied both stress the importance of asking questions to find answers that will unlock your success.
Dale Carnegie wrote about the ten ways to be a leader.
Number four is to ask questions.

John Maxwell in April of this year was named the #1 leadership guru in the United States by the American Management Association (AMA).  John hosts leadership conferences, and late last year I was invited to speak at one in the Atlanta area.  He talked about the power of asking questions.  In fact, the title of his new book is “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.”  

According to John, you are perhaps only one question away from an answer that will dramatically change your life.

John said:  “When you think of leadership, you think of direction.  You think of vision.  You think of somebody pointing the way and saying, ‘this is the way to go.’  But what I want you to understand today is that the impetus of leadership is asking good questions.  … ask the right questions because it’s the key to success.”

John listed nine values of asking questions.  

You only get answers to questions you ask.  If you don’t ask the questions, you don’t get the answers.  Don’t cheat yourself.  I’ve always said the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.  The person who asks may feel like a fool for five minutes, but the person who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Questions are the most effective way to connect with people. One of the points that I stress with my Mackay 66 Customer Profile is to find common ground, and one of the best ways to do this is by asking questions.  

“People connect when they understand, but they commit when they feel understood,” John said.  He added that when you ask good questions and listen and learn, you become a better leader.

Questions unlock doors that otherwise would remain closed.  John says most of the doors to opportunity and success are locked.  But asking the right questions is like having a key to open them.  

Questions cultivate humility.  When you ask questions of someone, you are telling them that they know something you don’t.  You value their opinion as a teacher.  

Questions allow us to direct the conversation.  If you like to control your conversations, there is no better way than asking questions.  John is a big believer in scheduling learning lunches with smart people where he likes to pick their brains.  He has a list of seven questions he always asks:

  1. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
  2. What are you learning now?
  3. How has failure shaped your life?
  4. Who do you know that I should know?  And will you help me meet them?
  5. What have you read that I should read?
  6. What have you done that I should do?
  7. How can I add value to you?

Questions allow us to build better ideas.  John is a big believer in sharing his ideas with others.  That way ideas can be expanded upon and become great ideas.

I always say, if I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar, we each have a dollar.  But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we each have two ideas.

Questions give us a different perspective.  John says:  “Before you attempt to set things right, you’ve got to make sure you see things right.  And the only way that you can see things right is by asking questions.”

Questions challenge mindsets.  “In other words, questions get us out of ruts,” according to John.  “Questions precede discovery, and discovery precedes change.”

Questions set us apart from other people.  Questions are a great differentiator, especially if you ask better questions than the other person.  

John told us his story of when he was 23 years old and just out of college.  He was a pastor at a little country church and a parishioner gave him a list of the 10 largest churches in America.  John wrote the pastors of all 10 to see if they would meet with him for 30 minutes.  Two agreed.  By the time he was age 29, John had the tenth largest church in America.

Mackay’s Moral:  You are only one question away from success, if it’s the right question.

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