Do you know your IQ (Intelligence Quotient)? In my earlier life, a person’s IQ number was considered relevant, important and valuable (although not to be shared with anyone). I don’t recall if anyone ever said this, but my perception was that the higher the IQ number, the “higher” professional opportunities would come your way.

Within the last twenty years, there’s been a heavy emphasis on EI (Emotional Intelligence), with Daniel Goleman’s incredible insights leading the way. His work focuses on the value of self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and interpersonal skills. He suggests that while high IQ might be an indicator of what “rung” in the then hierarchical model of business, EQ would have a profound impact on your ability to work with and manage others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about QI (Question Intelligence) lately, triggered by re-reading Peter Drucker’s, The Changing World of the Executive, first published in 1982, when he noted: “The leader of the past was a person who told; the leader of the future will be a person who asks.”

As someone who spends her professional life advising organizations about strategic growth and revenue generation, I started to wonder: Why do I care so much about questions? After talking to some friends and colleagues (as well as to myself), three reasons emerged. Questions help us:

  • More deeply connect with others. If we really want to talk with people, instead of at them, we need to understand more about what they’re thinking. And, in asking questions that help us become more aware of that, we often also realize that the first questions we’re asking are not the only ones worth addressing.
  • More fully explore multiple options. Instead of taking something at face value, deeper questions can help us see broader opportunities, can produce a more meaningful level of shared understanding, and uncover hidden inspiration, empowerment and action.
  • More efficiently generate short term results and long term success. In meetings where the leader tells, there’s little reason for the rest of the attendees to do much beyond taking his/her message, and robotically moving it forward. The energy is low, the accountability even lower. We’re all just following along, like a herd of sheep. When many are engaged in the dialogue, asking questions, and listening to one another, there’s far more buy-in to getting it done, and getting it done well.

Is asking (vs. telling) easy or hard? Actually, both. Asking takes authentic listening and a good deal of reflection and courage before you frame the questions. A great book: Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask by Michael Marquardt, highlights some terrific examples of disasters that occurred in large part because the right questions weren’t asked (or not asked early enough). The sinking of the Titanic, the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft, the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. By asking more questions, decision makers in those situations might have anticipated what could be catastrophic and chosen another path. Having the courage to push for more information can cure a much greater ill, if done quickly and effectively.

There’s both an art— and a science— to asking good questions. Closed ended questions, seeking black and white yes/no responses, are far less likely to produce better thinking than open ended questions: “In what ways could we…?” If you frame questions to encourage new thinking and build positive relationships, they will. “If it would be comfortable for you, I’m wondering if you could tell us what’s most important to you in choosing a CPA (attorney, banker, doctor)?” 

Some keys to the art of questioning—

  • Be insatiably curious.
  • Don’t assume you know the answers to your most important questions.
  • Start with the desire to see the world through their eyes; don’t be thinking about your next question while they’re answering the first one. I keep myself focused on them by writing this at the top of my note pad: AAT, ATT (All About Them, All The Time).
  • Listen for unexpected answers, probe further and have the agility to capitalize on the resulting opportunities.

Do you want to break old habits? Increase your learning? Fuel more growth? Heighten your QI? Just ask. And, while you’re at it, I welcome your questions… and can’t wait to ask you some right back.