Ask Purposeful Questions
The questions you ask are also quite powerful in focusing attention. When leaders ask questions, they send constituents on mental
G E journeys—“quests”—in search of answers. The questions that a
leader asks send messages about the focus of the organization, and they’re indicators of what is of most concern to the leader. They’re one more measure of how serious you are about your espoused beliefs. Questions direct attention to the values that should be attended to and how much energy should be devoted to them.
Questions develop people. They help people escape the trap of their own paradigms by broadening their perspective and forcing them to take responsibility for their own viewpoint. Asking good questions also forces you to listen attentively to your constituents and what they are saying. This action demonstrates your respect for their ideas and opinions. If you are genuinely interested in what other people have to say, then you need to ask their opinion, espe- cially before giving your own. Asking what others think facilitates participation in whatever decision will ultimately be determined and consequently increases support for that decision. Asking good ques- tions reduces the risk that a decision might be undermined by either inadequate consideration or unexpected opposition.
When Joshua Fradenburg was brought on to turn around a foundering sporting goods store in Northern California, he realized that all the employees needed to contribute their ideas about how to improve sales. Josh openly sought advice and asked a lot of ques- tions: What did they think the store was doing well, and what did they need to work on? He never criticized an idea, instead choosing to ask follow-up questions that might allow for a more productive idea. Josh encouraged his staff to offer suggestions about merchan- dising, sales promotions, and inventory. For example, although most of his staff ranged from fifteen to eighteen years of age, he asked them each to go to the product wall and select which skis or snow- board they wanted. Then he had them pick out their bindings and boots. After giving them a couple minutes to make their decisions,
Josh asked them what they were thinking about when they were deciding. He asked them to close their eyes and envision what it would look like to use the new gear: “Feel the cold. Hear the wind whistle by. Smell the fresh mountain air.” His questions got them thinking about how most people made an emotional (rather than a technical) purchase decision. Josh used questions to reframe their thinking and their approach to sales.
Think about the questions you typically ask in meetings, one- on-ones, telephone calls, and interviews. How do these questions help clarify and gain commitment to shared values? What would you like each of your constituents to pay attention to each day? Be intentional and purposeful about the questions you ask. When you are not around, what questions should others be thinking you are going to ask them when you return? What evidence do you want to ask about which will show that people are living by shared values and making decisions that are consistent with these values? What questions should you ask if you want people to focus on integrity or on trust or on customer satisfaction or on quality, inno- vation, growth, safety, or personal responsibility? In Table 3.1, we’ve