Ask Questions Until You Get the Answers You Want

2022 marks 30 years of TeamStrength. We’ve had a front row seat to CEOs and Key Executives presenting thousands of issues to their fellow leaders looking for insights to inform their actions and decisions. This year we’ll highlight some of the recurring themes we’ve heard in feedback over the years. We’ll start with one of the most repeated insights. Sometimes the best answer is a question.

Ask Them

A consistent theme in feedback is a simple, perhaps obvious suggestion. When fielding issues on a broad range of challenges members will suggest this – ask them. The customer, the team, the individual. Present the question to them, maybe in multiple ways, then really listen to what you hear.

In a room of leaders who are natural problem-solvers, decisive and action-oriented, a reminder to ask the people directly impacted can be a good reset. Though TeamStrength members are collaborative leaders – they wouldn’t embrace our program if they weren’t – they’re also ready to lead with strategies and plans. And there’s a tendency in all of us to assume we know what others are thinking. But why try to figure that out when you can ask.

This is most important when the challenge is about an individual. Whether a performance issue or a communication struggle, resist the tendency to imagine what’s in someone else’s mind. Ask them. Truly try to understand the view through their lens. And when someone brings you a problem about another team member, make your go to question ‘What’s their lens on this?’ (Credit: Mary White)

Ask Questions Until You Get the Answers You Want

The power of the question in leadership was taken even further in a suggestion from Sharon Hadley years ago. Sharon was a CEO member in the ‘90s and was the founder of the Jungle Jim’s restaurant chain. You might remember their Church Street location with the large animals and creative drinks!

Sharon’s advice was targeted at leadership development and delegation. Strong, experienced leaders achieved success because they’re good at finding solutions and making decisions. This strength can be a barrier to your team’s growth. It will always be easier, maybe safer, to let the boss solve the problem or make the decision. Sharon’s advice shifts your thinking from suggestions and answers, to asking questions and letting your leaders and team members come up with their own.

It takes patience and discipline to do this. Ideas and suggestions will come to mind immediately. Instead of throwing these out, lead with questions. What’s the history on the situation? What have you tried? What are the biggest barriers? Who else have you talked to? What do you think the next step should be? What could you have done differently? What other solutions have you considered?

If you’ve got ideas, lead them to the insight. For instance, if you think the solution is to delegate this assignment to Jane, don’t tell them. Don’t even ask – Do you think Jane could take this on? Ask – could someone on your team handle this? Resist giving them answers in question form – which is any question that asks about a specific solution. That’s not a question, it’s a suggestion.

Asking questions until you get the answers you want accomplishes many things. It develops the problem-solving, decision-making abilities in your team. It invests in the relationship more effectively than handing out answers and edicts. It demonstrates trust and respect. And it will lead to the same, and sometimes even better, direction. And if you’ve helped someone discover their own answers, they have ownership. It’s their plan and solution.

Take it from the best leaders we know – asking the right questions is often part of the answer.