The interesting thing about leadership—genuine, quality leadership—is that the things that propel us forward in our careers can seem counterintuitive to what we think we should do. We naturally believe that to get ahead and impress others, we have to appear to keep it all together. We need to have the answer, solve the problem, and know it all. We think that by demonstrating how qualified and competent we are, we can get ahead.
Being qualified and competent is certainly important. But in this pursuit of progress, it’s easy to develop habits that actually hold us back. We become so focused on ourselves, what we know and what we can do, that we miss the very people around us that we are there to serve and lead. If you want to lead well, the formula isn’t to know everything. It’s actually the opposite; it’s to ask more questions.
Author Ken Coleman gave a devotional at our office about the many benefits of asking questions. He tied it back to Scripture and how Jesus often asked questions in his ministry on this earth. He talked about leaders in business and said, “Leaders solve problems by asking questions.” And he spoke about asking questions in his family and how we engage and relate to each other by asking questions.
He cited how young children often have hundreds of questions every day, but research shows that by the eighth grade, those same children ask only two questions per day on average.
What happens? Are we conditioned by that age to answer more instead of ask more? Is it that we think that we just aren’t good at asking questions? Perhaps we don’t think the other person cares if we ask? Or maybe we don’t think asking questions is important?
As he was talking about this, I had a thought:
When you don’t ask questions, it conveys either arrogance (you already know all of the answers) or disinterest (you don’t care enough to ask further.) Neither of those are positive personal qualities.
But the opposite is also true.
When you ask questions, it communicates humility and interest—both of which are positive personal qualities.
Consistently in coaching sessions and everyday conversations, I get the best reactions from people when they say things like:
“Wow, that was such a great conversation.”
“Wow, you really know exactly what to say.”
“Wow, I really love talking to you.”
And those are conversations where I just asked questions. You can have an entire conversation with someone where you only ask questions, and they will walk away feeling great about the conversation, themselves and you.
If you want to get ahead in your career and lead well, the path to get there isn’t down the road of Know It All. It’s a much simpler route, one of genuine childlike curiosity.
Ask more questions. Ask your family how they are doing, what they are excited about, and what they are working on. Ask your team and leaders what they are looking forward to, how their families are doing, and what they are planning for the summer.
Express genuine interest.
Improve your relationships.
Ask more questions.