The Power of the Question

Why is questioning first a fundamental behavior of great leaders and specifically Servant Leaders?

Robert Greenleaf in his essay The Servant as Leader tells us that when the usual leader is faced with a problem or issue, the usual leader reacts by looking for someplace or someone to blame.  Once blame or responsibility is assigned, the leader can then direct the problem to be fixed.  Sometimes the leader’s ego and position of power and influence may even require that the leader provide a “map to recovery.”

Greenleaf suggests the better response to a problem or situation is to first acknowledge that, “This is my issue or problem.  What exactly is it?  What can I do about it?”  Then Greenleaf suggests, the truly wise servant leader, sits back and listens.  The great leader seeks first to understand.  The great leader takes time to ask many great questions and then seeks repeatedly to understand.  In Greenleaf’s example, the leader asks questions of all people encountered during the course of his work.  Through the discovery process of all those questions and encounters, the solutions and best course of actions are then implemented.

Whether the problem is that sales are low, enrollment is dropping, customer return rates are up, or administrative deadlines are missed, the leader first owns the problem and then seeks to understand the problem.

Great questions propel, launch, skyrocket us into new ways of thinking that demand creativity, imagination or transformation.  What a powerful place to work!  How delightful to imagine a day filled with great questions. 

Great questions are open ended, curious, and courageous.  They relate to the essence of the topic or problem, not the periphery.  Most importantly, great questions embody the spirit behind the best test for servant leadership.  Is the leader helping the people being served to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely to become a servant themselves?

In today’s climate in and out of the workplace, great questions can open up conversations for listening and finding commonality.  Great questions and continuous listening can bring people together, promote understanding and acceptance and open hearts to good will and peace.  We should all look for opportunities to connect and listen.