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In many places – including both work environments and families -- leaders act like questions are a problem.

I have one friend who grew up in a home where the children were told – seriously – to speak only when spoken to. Is it any wonder he had to work hard to be outgoing and forthcoming in adulthood?

Another friend was part of a highly-skilled team at a federal agency some years ago when they got a new boss, a political appointee, who told team members at her first meeting with them, “I don’t want any feedback.”

Is it any wonder operations in the agency quickly deteriorated while she stumbled in the dark and team members updated their résumés?

Effective communication is essential – especially when complex issues require high-trust, high-speed interaction among the people trying to understand and solve the issues. Usually good questions set the direction for such communication.

Good questions become the guide stars that keep a quest on course and inform midcourse corrections. Certainly leaders should strive to ask good questions. But so should everyone else on the team. So leaders should make it clear that everyone’s questions are welcome.

Where questions are not welcome, success is not likely.

But not all questions are equal. Some are the tools of interrogations that push others back into their shells. Others are rhetorical. Still others are sarcastic, designed to end interaction rather than deepen it. There also are leading questions, which are clearly designed to push a discussion in one direction, often prematurely. 

Sean Murray, co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift, says: “Real leaders don’t ask leading questions. They ask questions that enable others to lead themselves and to develop their own critical thinking process, practice and skills.”

Murray says working cultures “should not operate like elementary schools. Young kids are rewarded by fast hand raising and right answers. Dynamic business cultures reward penetrating insight and reflective business-critical approaches. Dynamic working cultures create conditions where questions have equal or greater value than answers.”

He highlights Albert Einstein’s observation on the importance of asking and weighing good questions. “It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein. “But I stay with the questions much longer.”

To learn more about what Murray has to say about the value of questions – and see his 10 tips for encouraging more and better questions from members of your team – click here.

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