Why Questions Matter More Than Answers

Answers make us feel like experts. They give us confidence to make a great sales pitch. But if we hold onto them too tightly, they can give rise to a dangerous leadership dynamic.

Questions make us feel uncertain. Uncomfortable. Even vulnerable. They require us to analyse our assumptions and risk our reputations as the ‘experts.’ But when we use them correctly they break us out of boundaries we didn’t understand we were working within.

Here we present the pitfalls of answers and the overlooked qualities of questions. As Peter Drucker said, “There are few things as useless, if not dangerous, as the right answer to the wrong question.”

Curiosity is critical

Going full-speed ahead feels great until you realise you’ve been travelling in the wrong direction. If we are afraid to uncover that anything is wrong we will be inclined to believe everything is on track. Until we steer ourselves into stagnation.

A culture of curiosity will challenge mis-guiding assumptions. If we delight in discovery, we will celebrate when we find something wrong because learning from these mistakes uncovers deeper understanding.

Curiosity also makes you adaptive. If you are anxious about making mistakes, crisis moments will cause you to crash. But if curiosity is built into your team then even a corporate hellstorm can become a navigable opportunity for your team to grow.

“Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.” – Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar, Creativity Inc.

Questions upgrade our thinking

Fewer than 8% of leaders have achieved the level of thinking required to engage in strategic thinking, collaboration and ambiguity, according to research by Torbert and Fisher. The key to developing as leaders is to change the way we think. We can have a PhD in our field but still maintain the mindset of a survivor: anxious to appear capable, in control and indispensable. This kind of thinking motivates us to shut others out of the process – at the expense of their learning and our own.

“When leaders are determined to have all the answers, they stay within the bounds of what they know.” – Hal Gregersen, Harvard Business Review. Bursting the CEO Bubble.

Asking questions together invites everyone into a dialogue of dynamic learning. Our false assumptions get analysed and we are able to grow together as a team. We invite each other’s insight and everyone’s thinking gets upgraded. If we consistently let down our guard like this, trust is built and we can take greater risks together, reaching for further horizons.

Questions redefine our role as a leader

“Every day I ask myself, ‘How many things am I dead wrong about?’” – Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog

When we hate being wrong we are misunderstanding our role as leaders within our organisation. Being ‘right’ all the time takes a lot of effort. Instead, imagine channelling that energy into creative thinking. Our job is not to stay in control of the process but to explore possibilities and uncover faulty thinking that is stopping our teams from doing likewise.

“To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning” – Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

It is possible to re-focus our efforts from controlling the process to empowering the people behind the process. And if we do this, our organisation will naturally grow, perhaps exponentially. Empowering people requires asking questions, drawing out their perspective and learning from their response. It requires recognising assumptions that have hindered the growth of your team. It requires being wrong time and time again so that you can upgrade your thinking time and time again.

Want more insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.


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