Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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The Questioning Leader

Volume: September 2010

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com

A friend of mine sees in colors. Well, many of us see in color. My friend, however, sees letters and numbers in color. For example, as you and I think of letters or utter numbers, our minds eye sees them in black in white. John, my friend, sees a broad spectrum of color. His letter “Q” is bright orange. John’s “D” is a soft shade of blue. Every letter and number of John’s colorful, wonderful world has a unique color. John’s condition is called synesthesia. And if ever I was going to have a condition, I believe that I would choose synesthesia. John is in his forties and it is only recently that he discovered that he has synesthesia. In other words, and more amazing to me, is that John just discovered that you and I do not have synesthesia. So what was it that led John to a mutually-surprising discovery? The answer: a simple question that unlocked a treasure trove of information.

The question that John asked his wife one morning was: “Honey, what color is your J?” After a fair amount of staring at each other, John and his wife learned that they see things differently, literally. Yet, of course, they get along famously. The point of all this is to illustrate the power and discovery that lies in asking terrific questions. When I conduct sales training, I ask the audience how sales people show their competence. A variety of answers are usually volleyed my way. The correct answer, in my opinion, is: Sales people show their competence by the quality of their questions. Ponder that statement for a moment and perhaps you will agree. If you do, you may further agree that the best leaders also ask terrific questions. So now we will examine some of the marvelous opportunities that asking good questions create.

  1. An opportunity to listen and learn. In fact, when I conduct communication and leadership workshops, the listening skills portion of the program is actually called “Listen and Learn.” There is just so much we can learn from sincere listening:
    1. The other person’s point of view (like it or not)
    2. The level of passion that they have towards the topic (via their tone of voice)
    3. Information and facts that they believe are true (sometimes they really are correct)
  2. An opportunity to be consultative. Good consultants are investigative. They probe and learn root causes of issues and opportunities by asking leading questions that unlock critical information that is stored in their clients’ minds. When those critical thoughts and insights are shared with a talented professional, marvelous actions can begin to take shape. But only if the right questions, at the right time, and in the right manner are asked. 
  3. An opportunity to be empathetic. The quality of empathy is part of the social awareness competency of Emotional Intelligence. Many people are wired with empathy. For many others, however, empathy is a bit foreign. No matter where you are on the empathy scale, asking great questions will position you correctly during important conversations.
  4. An opportunity to paraphrase. When we paraphrase, or mirror back to a person the sentiment that was shared with us, we use the most powerful communication technique known to man. I will save my diatribe on paraphrasing for another newsletter, however, it is paramount that great leaders and sales people master this important skill. But without the ability to ask great questions and then listen effectively, the skill of paraphrasing is lost. Communication is a process. And the process begins with questions, and continues with silence.   

Your question may now be: What questions should I ask, and when should I ask them? The answers are:

  1. Begin to make a list of salient questions. They may be questions you ask on a regular basis. They may be questions that others have asked of you. Regardless, catalog them.
  2. Practice. Continually weave the quality of asking great questions into your life. Practice with your colleagues, your significant other, your children, and importantly, with people that you do not even know.  Practice makes perfect; and we want to ask perfect questions.  

Well, there you have it, a colorful exchange of why we show our competence by asking great questions. Now go practice and make some positive things happen today!

Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and collaboration consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. He is also the author of Leadership Simplified – THE Field Guide for Savvy Leaders.  Doug’s audios and videos are also available at www.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug help your team work together better, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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