Effective Leaders Ask Questions and Listen

Monday, July 5 2021

In the leadership world, there are some skills that seem to be taken for granted, but, asking questions and listening effectively are two that often stay under the radar.

In school we learn to speak, read, and debate, while leadership training tends to focus on the skills of speaking and persuasion. Rarely are we taught about asking questions or listening. Yet mastering these two skills can take your leadership to the next level.

When it comes to being effective, one good question is worth a hundred great answers.

Powerful questions put the focus on the other person, interrupting their autopilot, nudging them to think, reflect, and find solutions; and when we find our own solutions, we are more likely to commit and take action.

When we ask thoughtful questions, we are helping more than if we just assert our great ideas. Asking is an indispensable leadership tool because a great question can:

Shift perspective

  • What can you learn from this?
  • What is an opportunity in this?
  • What are you saying NO to by saying YES to this?

Expand possibilities

  • What could you have done differently?
  • Who can you learn from?

Provide a sense of control

  • What is one thing you can do now?
  • Who can you ask for support?

In your next leadership conversation resist the urge to give advice or share your experience. Experiment with asking a question instead. And then listen… asking questions without listening is like buying a great book and never reading it. It is a skill that isn’t often taken seriously, so most of us are hearing without actually listening.

Listening is an ACTIVE skill that requires being present, engaged, and focused on the person in front of you.

Four strategies for becoming a “listening leader”:

  1. Listen with a goal to understand. Stay curious and actively engaged with what the person is saying.
  2. Eliminate distractions. Our brains are incapable of focusing on two things simultaneously. Give 100% attention.
  3. Don’t interrupt. Avoid the temptation to shift focus back to you. You may think that sharing your experience is helpful. It is not… unless you are invited.
  4. Ask questions. This demonstrates the depth of your interest, makes the person feel heard, and deepens the conversation.

You have to put in effort to become a better leader. Listening and asking questions are two of the most powerful leadership skills you can develop, and it’s an investment worth making.