Leading with Questions, not Solutions

As a former practicing attorney, I was educated in the Socratic Method which essentially means that the instructor teaches by asking questions as opposed to lecturing. By asking questions the instructor draws out ideas for discussion and debate which stimulates critical thinking and a challenge or reasoned support of the ideas being discussed. 

Outside of law school and perhaps my undergraduate philosophy courses, I haven’t seen this method of teaching used very often, but perhaps it should be. What would happen if we asked more questions in the workplace to stimulate critical thinking? Are we taking away teachable moments and valuable learning opportunities from our employees by rushing in with the answer? 

Leading with Questions, not Solutions

If you’re trying to lead with questions rather than answers, here are some ideas to get you started as you work to be more purposeful in pausing to ask questions, engage your team’s critical thinking, and guiding them to solve their own problems. 

Context Questions: By asking questions I ensure that I understand the context or background of the issue so that when I offer advice or guide them toward help, it’s appropriately tailored for the situation at hand. This has the dual benefit of forcing the other person to clearly articulate the problem which sometimes provides the clarity they needed or helps them see the issue is smaller and more easily managed than they first believed.

Alignment Questions: Repeating back what you heard them say and asking questions to expand or clarify what you heard and what you believe they are asking of you can be powerful in getting clarity. This also forces you to actively listen which means you aren’t thinking about what you are going to say or jumping in with solutions before they’ve fully explained their problem.

Framing Questions: Framing questions help you get to their underlying beliefs, motivations, or attitudes about the problem. Sometimes the way we have framed an issue limits our ability to see potential solutions as applicable to that situation or problem. In those cases, reframing the issue can be a critical first step toward finding a solution.

Brainstorming Questions: Brainstorming questions are another helpful tool to move past limiting beliefs. Detaching from the problem and simply brainstorming all the possible ideas without limitations on what’s practical or probable sometimes help you arrive at ideas you otherwise would not have thought of.

Resources Questions: Sometimes the most important question you can ask is “What do you need from me?” or “How can I help?” Many of us have a natural inclination to jump in with a solution and try and solve the problem but maybe all they need is a sounding board to bounce their solutions off of or someone to challenge and pressure test their solution for flaws. Maybe all they need is an introduction to a resource outside their network or to have you point them in the right direction of getting the help they need.

As the Spanish philosopher Maimonides said, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time.” If we’re going to develop strong leaders we have to ensure we’re putting in the work to teach them to fish. This requires leaders to hold their ideas and opinions to allow room for others to think critically without the leader’s opinion shaping the solution. It also requires leaders to ask thoughtful questions and encourage a culture of curiosity and critical thinking.

Original article published in LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leading-questions-solutions-sondra-radcliffe/


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