It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that when you ask a question, it makes you look weak, but good leaders don’t let the appearance of strength get in the way of actual strength. Smart leaders understand that questions are more important than orders. Insight, strategy, and intervention all start with understanding, and you can’t understand anything if you fail to ask questions.
I believe that all good leaders ask their teams questions, that they do so frequently, and that they really listen to the answers. Let’s talk about why.
1. Morale Matters
One of the less obvious reasons it’s a good idea to ask your employees questions is the simple fact that it makes them feel important. I don’t mean to imply that this should be your only goal: you should be genuinely interested in the answers, after all. But I do mean to imply that when you ask your employees questions, this can do more for morale than most pep talks, incentives, and pats on the back.
According to a recent study by Gallup, pampering employees isn’t enough to make them more productive, or even more loyal.
What’s more important, they found, is how engaged your employees are. In fact, the study linked employee engagement with nine crucial business metrics, including profitability, productivity, and customer ratings.
Engaged employees feel like they’re part of something that matters.
And questions are a crucial part of that, because when you ask somebody a question, it means you care about their answer. It means their insight matters. It means that they are a part of something.
2. Solving the Delegation Problem
A few weeks ago, Alan Utley asked us whether good delegators were just lazy, and came to some interesting conclusions. A colleague of his faced complete turnover in his department, and immediately found himself without any idea how to move forward. It was because he had delegated so much that he didn’t know how to replace what his team had been doing.
The line between empowering delegation and lazy delegation is actually fairly simple: do you know what your team is doing?
This is where questions come in. A skilled delegator isn’t afraid of sharing responsibility with others, or passing work on to those who are more specialized or qualified. At the same time, a skilled delegator is deeply interested in what their team is doing, how they are doing it, and how the process works. They don’t need to micromanage the process, but they do need to understand it. How good can a leader be if they don’t understand their own business processes, after all?
Delegation without information isn’t freeing you up to focus on strategy and bigger issues. It’s blinding yourself from how your business actually works, and forcing yourself to make strategic decisions in the dark.
3. Innovation Can Come From Anywhere
Google’s 20 percent time led to Gmail, autocomplete, even AdSense, and it’s so powerful that, according to Wired, they couldn’t kill it if they wanted to. Nor was it ever a fleshed out corporate program with a written policy. It was simply a company doctrine, an outlet for creative professionals who wanted to pursue their own innovative ideas, often even while being disincentivized by management. A similar culture reigns at other innovative workplaces like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Apple.
Empirically conducted, peer-reviewed studies have more or less proven that when people are exposed to a more diverse range of information, they consistently produce more innovative ideas.
Managers who hope to be innovators need to collect information from a wide variety of sources, and that doesn’t just mean a wide variety of corporate magazines. It means talking to your “underlings” and seeing things from their perspective. It means looking for ideas in the most unlikely of places.
The smart manager knows that innovation comes from every level of the company. They realize that when management listens to the workforce, loyalty, ratings, and profit go up. The understand that questions are the key to delegation without ignorance. If you agree, I’d appreciate it if you passed this along.
Have you ever seen leadership fail because somebody in management was afraid to ask questions? Any success stories? We’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading.