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Lead with Questions

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KEYWORDS leadership

As a shop owner and manager I have to wear many different hats. I’m sure you can relate. One day I’m wearing the sales hat and the next it’s the finance hat. Then soon it will switch to marketing and within a short time it will be interfacing with an insurance adjuster. It seems like a different hat is needed every day and sometimes several on any given day.

As our business has grown into two shops, I find myself regularly returning to the role of leadership development. Now, leadership development is different than developing managers, though often it can be for the same people. It has been said that managers do things right, but leaders do the right things.

Leadership is different than management in many ways but one of the clearest is being able to chart a course for a team of people and not just follow a prescribed way of doing something. Leadership is more creative, fluid and relational and therefore more difficult in many ways. With leadership, there are no pat answers, only fresh challenges that require creative thinking and bold action.

How do we help someone grow into a leader? The answer is in the questions. Learning to ask really good questions is the key to helping team members grow into leaders.

Here are some key questions that have stood the test of time and practice.

1. The AWE Question

In his book, The Coaching Habit, Michael Stanier says the single most effective question we can use to develop others is the “AWE question.” AWE stands for “And what else?” This question is a great add-on after we have already asked another question, such as “What’s on your mind?” What typically happens is that there will be some surface answers given. This is normal. But the AWE question can then be introduced to go deeper. “And what else have you been thinking about?” This encourages both deeper self-disclosure and more creative thinking. Stanier writes, “‘And what else?’ is the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities.”

Would you like to have more creative thinking about the areas where you feel stuck in your shop? Perhaps it’s time to dig deeper into those issues by asking, “And what else?” to your team.

2. The Fierce Conversation Questions

In her book, Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott offers several questions that take people deeper quickly. These are the types of questions that will jump-start any meeting, but are especially useful for one-on-one meetings with someone you are trying to develop into a leader. Here’s a few she suggests:
What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?
What topic are you hoping I will not bring up?
What is the most important decision you are facing? What is keeping you from making it?

3. The Five “Whys?”

Asking “Why?” five times in a row helps get to the root cause of any issue. If the person you are mentoring is stuck or even if your shop as a whole is stuck, you can start by asking, “Why are we stuck on this particular problem?” The answer to that question, if based on facts, will then lead you to another round of asking, “Well, why is that the case?” If you persistently and honestly dig down on any issue with five whys, the chances are good you will arrive at a root cause. And once a root cause is discovered, solutions will quickly follow.

“Fixing things for people is the surest way to lock them into being followers, not leaders.”
—Kevin Rains, owner, Center City Collision and Precision Frame & Body

Now, when we are mentoring someone, our knee-jerk reaction will be to offer solutions. It is simply how we are wired. We are fixers! We want to give solutions, be the hero and really help people move past their sticking points. The only problem with that is they will never learn to think on their own, solve their own problems and become leaders. Fixing things for people is the surest way to lock them into being followers, not leaders. And ultimately those with real leadership ability will resent you for it.

People need to be empowered to solve their own problems and come up with their own strategies. We must learn to become guides, not fixers, and our greatest tools are questions.

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