In a program for vice presidents of a large corporation, we had an exciting morning of learning about leadership. At lunch there was a lot of energy and many observations about the topic. One woman spoke up and shared a very important question.
“I have become increasingly interested in leadership. In recent years I have begun to focus on and observe the best leaders around me. One of the things I have noticed is they help people think for themselves and they do it in a way that creates a natural desire for change. I am convinced the way they create the desire is by asking questions. They ask really good questions. So I have been thinking about it a lot, and it has become clear that I lack the skill. I really want to learn how to ask good questions. How do you learn to do it?”
It is tempting to answer this query by listing a set of good questions. If you search the internet, you can find many such lists.
The key is not a set of questions; it is understanding an underlying principle. Leaders accelerate learning by altering the content of conventional communications. Leaders create great conversations by establishing what my friend Jane Dutton calls high quality connections.
You do this by finding commonality in assumed differentiation. For years I have trained executives to listen to each other tell their most authentic stories. After an hour of doing so, participants are shocked by the power of the high quality connections.
Yet when I ask them to consider the implication of the exercise outside the classroom, they go quiet. They cannot imagine creating high quality connections at work where all the emphasis is on timed conversation and task completion. The paradox is that in networks of high quality connections, trust is higher and so is productivity.
- What is a high quality connection?
- What do questions have to do with creating them?
- What connection could you improve today?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?