08:47 AM

Authentic leaders ask better questions

By Mark Berven, President and Chief Operating Officer, Property & Casualty

A recent Harvard Business Review article by John Coleman, Critical thinking is about asking better questions, got me thinking about how authentic leaders are often good critical thinkers because they ask better questions.

One of the best ways to learn is to ask questions. And I would add that one of the best ways to lead is to use questions to guide your team, so you don’t always have to be directive in your approach. By asking questions of those you lead, rather than always telling them what to do, you give them the autonomy to figure things out for themselves which, over time, helps them learn and grow.

In Coleman’s article, he outlined several ways to enhance our ability to ask good questions and I found that many of them are also indicative of authentic leadership. Here are a few examples:

Hold hypotheses loosely
Coleman reminds us that, even as developing a hypothesis is a key step in problem solving, we shouldn’t become too attached to our first solution or we may look for data that only prove what we think is true. This reminded me that authentic leaders need to always be open to new ideas and approaches, even if we know a solution has worked well in the past. By being open, we can find the best solution for our customer, which may not always be our first solution or the easiest one for us to implement.

Listen more than you talk
Fans of authentic leadership will recognize this alignment right away — authentic leaders are great listeners, and they listen to learn and understand, not to respond. Coleman also calls out active listening in his article, noting that it lets the person or group you’re listening to know you care about what they are saying and take their perspective seriously. Exactly right.

Consider the counterintuitive
This is a great point and one I personally don’t hear often enough. So often when solving a problem, it can be easy to fall into groupthink and assume that, because we all agree, we must be headed in the right direction. A group can often benefit from a contrarian point of view, someone who questions conventional thinking and asks why. This is also true for authentic leaders, who should be prepared to question the status quo, if only to make sure a better solution isn’t being missed.

As Coleman notes in his conclusion, critical thinking is at the heart of solving complex problems, and asking better questions is a big part of that. For me, questions are a tool that authentic leaders can use to stimulate new ideas, better solutions and encourage people to find better ways of doing things themselves, rather than always relying on their leader for the answer.

As business and leadership expert Tom Peters famously said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”