Good questions inform; great questions transform!

Steve Jobs asked one profound question that transformed Apple from the verge of bankruptcy to a trillion-dollar company! What was the question?

“Who is Apple and where do we fit in this world?”

And here’s how he articulated the response to his question:

What we’re about is not making boxes for people to get their jobs done—although we do that well. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple’s core value is that we believe people with passion can change the world for the better. Those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.

Forbes

What followed next was a not just a shift in Apple’s communication strategy (how the products would benefit the “crazy ones” instead of “speeds and feeds”) but demonstrated how a company can turn things around by questioning their purpose, existence and the big WHY behind what they do.

That my friend is the power of questions.

As a coach, questions are like my bread and butter of my core work. But they aren’t random or canned questions but purposeful ones that will make the clients think, reflect and progress their thinking in the process. And believe me when I say this, it’s not easy. Asking the right question can stretch your listening skills beyond your imaginations. Yes, I said, “listening skills.” Not “asking skills.” Because our questions are derived from the client’s responses, trigger words, their emotions, body language and even the tone of their voice!

John Maxwell’s book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions is one of my favorite books when it comes to leadership and how asking questions can transform the way you lead and think about leadership. The book has personally helped me grow and develop both as a person and a leader.

IBM founder Thomas J. Watson said,

“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”

Provided you’re willing to ask questions. And surprisingly, you can ask people to do anything but ask questions. They don’t. If you insist, all you’re going to get is a half-assed effort to satisfy your craving for questions. Not exactly what you would have in mind when you took an initiative for the larger good and asked, “let me know if you have any questions would love to answer them.”

As a leader, however, you need to make sure that you keep focusing on building a culture where questions are encouraged and even sought after. I’ve tried that out with the team and it works like a charm, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the most challenging endeavor you’re ever going to get yourself into. But it’s worth it. Creating a culture of asking questions will always challenge minds and get teams and organizations out of ruts. That’s a guarantee. Why? Because it always challenges the status quo. Just like what Apple did in the past (and I believe still does).

Going back to the book, I highlighted and took notes on some of the great questions you could be asking as a leader yourself. While the book goes in depth into many aspects, if you’re a leader (or an aspiring one) this is a great start.

  1. Am I Investing in Myself? A Question of Personal Growth.
  2. Am I Genuinely Interested in Others? A Question of Motivation. Someone once said, “People have two reasons for doing anything — a good reason and the real reason.” For you to be a good leader when dealing with people, the good reason must be the same as the real reason. Your motives matter.
  3. Am I Grounded as a Leader? A Question of Stability. Just as leaders are vulnerable to acting for their personal advantage, they are also susceptible to having an overblown sense of their own importance. That’s why they need to remain grounded. Good leaders need to exhibit three important qualities: humility: understanding your place in light of the bigger picture; authenticity: being comfortable in your own skin; calling: having a purpose that is bigger than you.
  4. Am I Adding Value to My Team? A Question of Teamwork. Here are my suggestions for adding value: promote full commitment, create an environment of encouragement and support, identify adversity as an opportunity to develop character, and consider each person’s strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Am I Staying in My Strength Zone? A Question of Effectiveness. Staying in your strengths gives you an advantage. In a world where people spend much of their time shoring up their weaknesses, your focus on maximizing your strengths will set you apart from others. The more you focus on your strengths, the better you will be positioned to see and seize opportunities as they arise.
  6. Am I Taking Care of Today? A Question of Success. Good leaders naturally look to the future. They are known for vision and for leading others to new and higher destinations. However, the future isn’t where anything gets accomplished. That happens today. That’s why you need to take care of it. To best use my time correctly, there are five areas where I want to make sure I’m taking care of business: faith, family, relationships, mission and health.
  7. Am I Investing My Time with the Right People? A Question of ROI. The greatest legacy any leader can leave is the other leaders he raises up before he’s finished. That means finding the right people and investing in them continually.

If the list of question got you thinking, you ought to buy the book! It’s worth the read!

In my opinion, the only way to stay on track and reach your leadership potential is to embrace questions (and tough ones at that) and keep asking them.