A man once approached the great thinker of antiquity, Socrates and asked him a great question that has benefited so many people in the world today.
Man: Oh wise one, what is the secret to making great decisions?
Socrates answered, “Ask great questions”
In 1959 the Soviet Union (now Russia) beat the United States in the race to the moon when it landed the first man-made object on the moon.
The then President of America Dwight Eisenhower asked a great question, “how can we be the first country to put a man on the moon?“.
He was told to put more funding into mathematics and Sciences which he did.
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon and Neil Armstrong an American walked on the moon thereby making the United States of America the first nation to successfully land a human being on the surface of the moon.
Peter Drucker, the great scholar on Management remarked,
“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”
Jim Collins, the business leadership guru, wrote extensive about leading with question especially in his book ‘Good to Great’ where he wrote about a mechanism for moving a company from good to great.
This mechanism he called the Council which is a composition of the right set of people headed by the CEO.
And how does the mechanism called the council work?
By asking questions which are germane to the success of the company and find finding answers through dialogue and debate.
How can we master the art of asking the right questions?
Here are few ingredients of the Socrates Culture
1. Quest for the best answers
Ray Dalio said, “Remember that your goal is to find the best answer; not to give the best one you have”
Ray Dalio founded Bridgewater, one of the best performing hedge funds in the world. His firm is guided by a set of principles and at the core of those principles is an intense commitment to asking great questions. From how he recruits, to the day to day management, there is a 360 degree culture of asking thought provoking questions.
2. Be humble; Admit you don’t know.
A great writer and philosopher in the art mastering the Socrates Culture, Michael Linden Mayer advice that, you need to check your ego at the door when you go to work. It gets in the way of finding the best answers.
Once your ego is checked, you can be humble and admit when you do not know the answer.
3. Inspire Engagement
To successful lead people with questions, you have to be ready for questioning.
If people are not allowed to question your reason for your position on issue you can’t get the best out of them.
Leading with questions is a leadership skill that entails lots of tolerance and very thick skin for criticism.
4. There is no single perfect answers
Many leaders and organizations often go on a wild goose chase seeking the holy grail solution to there problems.
This is always result in what psychologist called Error of haste Conclusion. Because Ade was in the today and a wrist watch was missing definitely it must be Ade who stole the watch.
To successfully lead with questions we must avoid asking questions along what we already know to what is also unknown. It is called questing. This is the source of innovation.
5. Avoid leading question
This is a type of question that leads the audience to a predetermined conclusion of the questioner. (journalist do this a lot)
This is usually as a result of confirmation bias. This is a psychological condition in which we try to seek a justification for our stance on issue, about a thing or situation. We pretend to be searching for the truth before in actual fact we are looking for an evidence to justify our point of view.
This behaviour can be traced to another psychological concept called the Cognitive dissonance.
The theory of cognitive dissonance as postulated by Festinger states that, we cannot hold two contrasting ideas in our mind. The mind resolve this by rejecting one idea and accepting the other. When your mind reject one idea, it needs to justify choosing the accepted idea.
Thus, you ask questions that doesn’t necessarily get you closer to the truth but helps you strengthen your conviction on why your choice is right even if it is the wrong position.
Whenever we ask is Messi better than Ronaldo? or who is better, Messi or Ronaldo. We are leaning towards Confirmation bias. There is this tendency to tilt towards the answers that are in congruent with what we already believe about these personalities. This is confirmation bias.
The best approach for a probing mind would be to set up a list of criteria to judge them by (which are critical to success in the game of football, sentiment apart). Then ask question(s) on each of the criterion.
Instead of asking why are they not listening to us? Ask, what are we not saying rightly?
If this is so true why are leaders not leading with question?
One of the reasons why people especially political and organizational leaders shy away from asking question is because they are afraid it makes them look stupid because we have this notion of an all knowing leader what scholars have termed Individualistic approach to leadership (more on this leader).
The truth is that no man is an island of knowledge and you have to be a fool to be wise as attested to by this Chinese proverb which says “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”
Little wonder Voltaire, French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit observed that we should “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”
Always remember, You are one step closer to your solution. If only you will imbibe the Socrates culture and ask the right questions
Ishola Ayodele is a specialist in Message Engineering. He helps Leaders, Brands and Organisations communicate in a way that yields the desired result.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely the writer’s, not ALEDEH’S