We’ve been taught to believe that asking questions is annoying – like “any two year old would know the answer to that Mark!” I’m not going to be cliche and pretend that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question” – there is. There are some really dumb questions. But not to be outdone, the ignorance of the question is only surpassed by the absurdity of ridiculous answers! I’d like to tell you that there’s a formula, a template, an easy way to get the answers you need. It is a matter of asking the right question, but deriving the question is slightly more difficult than it was when you were a young child.
Getting To The Right Question
Which, by the way, hats off to all the Moms out there – you are amazing and all us kids are grateful for your patience! While the extent of most Dad’s answers to their kids’ questions are “Go ask you Mom”, the average mother is peppered with with an astounding 300 questions per day! Do you know which age and sex are the most inquisitive? If you have one, you know the answer already: it’s your four year old daughter. This class of children ask an incredible 390 questions per day!
And Mom’s don’t get off nearly so easy as dear old Dad! The average Mom is asked a question every couple minutes during a 12-hour day. And there are some doozies. An article published on The Telegraph website back in 2013 identifies the
Top Five Most Difficult Questions Mom’s Are Asked:
5) How do fish breathe under water?
4) Why is the sky blue?
3) What are shadows made of?
2) Where does the sky end?
1) Why is water wet?
I guess you need a degree in mathematics, science and physics in order to be a Mom! Take a look at the link below – the article from The Telegraph is a short and entertaining read that will dramatically increase your respect for all the Moms!
Coming up with the right question is not easily mastered. It requires practice and testing, checking the result, rephrasing, and asking again. The best questions are like detective work – drawing out the hidden or obscure facts that expose the root issue. Asking questions is the best way to learn, and believe it or not, asking why is still just as essential as when you were two…we just have to make it less annoying!
Why Ask Questions
According to Josh Linkner, asking questions fosters ownership, autonomy, and feelings of success. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?! Do you know why leaders often make bad decisions? It’s because they are only engaging with the people who report to them directly. Do you only engage your direct report for feedback on how your business is operating? If so, I advise you to immediately make time to dig deeper.
If you want an honest assessment of how things are going, go talk to the people closest to the work being performed. And if you don’t think they will be honest with you, it could be because they don’t trust how you (or their manager) will respond to an honest comment. It’s only through regular engagement and a reputation that validates/confirms your interest in each and every employee that a bridge of trust begins to be built.
Building that bridge is essential if you want employees to be honest in their responses to your questions. It will take you time, but there isn’t any better investment of your time than getting out there and asking your people about the job they are doing. It is so meaningful and you will impact your people with your presence.
Impacting People With Your Presence
I’ve experienced this firsthand with the CEO at the company where I work. While I have several objections to his leadership style, there’s one thing that he has done differently than any other CEO or General Manager that I’ve ever known: he literally walked the floor making conversation with any employee with which he obtained eye contact.
Even though I was a visiting employee in the headquarters building, he engaged with me directly. That communicates a message that the corner office is truly concerned with the shop floor. When it’s done with empathy and respect, it’s powerful in shaping the relationship between leaders and team members.
Tom Jackson shared a similar story with me. As you know, Tom is the President of Steel Encounters, Inc. and joined us on the Leader to Leader podcast in episodes 49 and 50 (links below). He told me about a recent business trip that he took to Texas. Tom didn’t go to visit the customer. He didn’t go to meet with vendors. Tom went because he hadn’t been to the job site to visit with the team working there. He went with the intention of making himself visible and available to his team on the shop floor.
What Do You Need From Me
You must take time, interrupt what’s happening in your world, so you can go ask questions that demonstrate your interest in your team members, their lives, their work and the things that you (and the company) could be doing better. Ask “What am I not seeing while I’m sitting in my office?” Get in the routine of visiting with employees, even when you can’t visit with each one. Maybe you aren’t physically present. So, pickup the phone and give them a call and ask “How is going for you?” or “What do you need from me?”
Asking great questions starts by engaging with your people on a regular basis. You must affirm your genuine interest in each one to facilitate getting the feedback and the answers you are searching for.
Who haven’t you engaged with for a while? Who might you need to go see or call? Are you stopping at too high of a level in your organization when seeking feedback about how things are going?
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
The Telegraph website article Mothers asked nearly 300 questions a day, study finds
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