BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

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