Leaders have earned the right to ask questions

(Originally published Oct. 27, 2010)

Mike Figliuolo observed in his blog this week that the difference between a worker and a senior executive all boils down to who gets to ask all the questions. Workers are paid to deliver answers, and executives are paid to ask questions.

They have to be the right questions, of course. Good questions help an organization set a course for the future or find out why something went wrong so it can be fixed. Good questions look for connections, trends and predictions. Good questions also help other people grow and develop their capabilities as they help find the answers.

Think of all the innovations you’ve seen in your lifetime. Nearly all of them, I think, started with a good question such as “How could we use digital technology to make it simpler for people to get and play music?” or “How could we devise a system that would know when drivers are dozing off and wake them up?” These kinds of questions result in innovation, and they drive companies to think about themselves in new ways.

The best questions are empowering, not disempowering. They call people to challenges and create clarity and ownership. If you want to improve your ability to ask good questions, start by checking out Judith Ross’s suggestions at the Harvard Business Review.

So here’s a question for you: What question changed your life, and why did it have such a big impact on you? Just click the “Leave a comment” link beneath the headline to share your thoughts.

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