Aug 30, 2016
By: Erin Mahoney, Cascade Employers
Once again, what we learned in early education is relevant to gaining insight in our leadership style. The four sentence types – declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory – and how you use them reveal much about your leadership competency. While each one has its time and place, the interrogative is vastly underused by most leaders.
While the declarative (“I think you should do this”), the imperative (“Do this”) and even the exclamatory (“Do this now!”) all get a fair amount of play (hopefully with ‘please’ peppered in), not enough leaders are asking enough questions. Surely, all interrogatory sentences are not equal. Although leading questions (“Don’t you think I’m right?”) and rhetorical questions (“What do you think I am, an idiot?”) are technically interrogatives, they will not advance your leadership competency.
Behold the humble question. I define it as being genuinely solicitous of another’s perspective and requires relinquishing both ego and control. For example, the interrogatory “What do you think?” may suggest you don’t know. The answer you receive may undermine your plan or approach, and therefore your control over the situation. However, a wise person knows that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Asking questions will give you additional perspectives. Additional perspectives help ensure an informed decision, approach, or direction. If someone feels that their perspective is respected, it is more likely you will obtain buy-in even if you are not in total agreement. And if you have buy-in you’re less likely to have subtle (or not-so-subtle) attempts to undermine your decision down the road.
Questioning why we don’t ask more questions is itself an interrogatory that would benefit most leaders. From where does this reluctance stem? A distaste for conflict? Fear of appearing ill-informed? Concerned about relinquishing control? Afraid you won’t like the answer? All are worthy of exploration and will serve as valuable leadership development lessons. Besides, there are better ways to address these concerns than pretending they don’t exist and avoiding questions entirely.
Some might consider using questions as a leadership tool to be prosaic, others profound. But they make employees happy. They make clients happy. Want to be a better leader? Ask more questions!
Erin loves helping members create innovative work environments that activate their employees’ intrinsic motivation through training, coaching, and team building. She also excels at meeting/retreat facilitation and board development. Prior to joining the Cascade team, she was the VP of Research & Development at Personal Resource Management Associates, Inc., where she specialized in leadership development and management consulting. An active member of the Oregon Organization Development Network (OODN), she has provided consulting to the leadership of many Portland-based nonprofits through the organization’s Community Consulting Project. Prior to her work in organization development, Erin worked as an attorney in California in the public interest sector. Erin received her B.A. from UCLA and her J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
When she’s not working, Erin loves learning new skills and going on new adventures with her 115-pound black lab, Buster.