Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


The Questioning Leader

Volume: April 2018

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 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, John just discovered that you and I do not have synesthesia. So, what was it that led John to his 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. 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 volleyed my way. The correct answer, in my opinion, is: Sales leaders 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. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE used to comment that managers become leaders when they start asking better and better questions. So now we will examine some of the marvelous opportunities that are created by asking good questions.


  1. The opportunity to listen and learn. When I facilitate our leadership boot camps, 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
    2. The level of passion that they have towards the topic
    3. Information and facts that they believe are true

  2. The 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. The 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. The 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?” The answers are:
  • Make a list of meaningful questions that will unlock treasure troves of information.
  • Catalog great questions that others have asked of you.
  • Seek to structure conversational, open-ended questions.
  • Practice. Continually weave the quality of asking great questions into your work life. Practice with your colleagues, your significant other, your children, and importantly, with people that you do not even know. Practice so that you ask perfect questions. 
Well, there you have it, a colorful exchange of why we show our competence by asking great questions. Now, be inquisitive and make some positive things happen today!
Until next time, be well.
Doug Van Dyke is a colorful Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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