Many leaders believe they know everything. They demand respect, micro manage their teams and bark out orders.
Such individuals are not great leaders. The best leaders earn respect, empower their teams to act and ask questions.
In fact, asking questions is one of the most effective tools a leader can use to learn, understand and clarify an organization's objectives, strategies and tactics.
There's a reason why the Socratic Method of teaching endures today as one of the most effective models of knowledge sharing and it has direct application for leaders as well.
1. Who am I?
Despite the financial mess enveloping Greece currently, Western thought is indebted to the Greek tradition for the axiom "know thyself." Regrettably, too few leaders know who they are at their core, what they fear or what motivates them. Money, success and power are external results for keeping score, not internal drivers as to why you're playing the game in the first place.
If you don't know who you are as a person and a leader, you're going to be less effective in both areas.
2. How do my people see me?
Even if a leader knows who they are and what they're about, that doesn't automatically cascade to their teams and people.
It's human nature for individuals to think that others have the same perceptions of us as we do. That's obviously not the case for any of us -- including leaders -- yet many in supervisory roles look right past that obvious observation.
Leaders tend to think that they "must" be doing things right, including managing people, given their track record of promotion and advancement, but that's lazy leadership. The best leaders ask this question of their own peers and their own subordinates to get closer to the truth of how they come across and how they're perceived.
To effectively do that requires a leader to be intellectually honest, with themselves and down line, about their blind spots, personality quirks and management gaps. Not all leaders are capable of that level of transparency.
3. What do my people really need from me?
The previous two questions are prelude to this one that gets to the issue of empowering your team to accomplish results.
The majority of leaders have a good understanding of what their organization or business needs to advance, but those needs aren't always aligned with the needs of the employees who are actually doing the advancing.
The best leaders dig into their teams so they can get more from their best performers and the most from under performers. The only way to begin that critical exercise is with a single question, "What do my people really need from me?"
Asking questions might not solve every problem but asking questions is the only way to drive new solutions.