At a workshop about Designing and Delivering Education presented at the annual meeting of the ABHE in Orlando, Florida, Dr. Roy King made a statement that I jotted down because, at the time it seems insightful and worth coming back to. Well, that was in February of 2010 and I was recently browsing through some old notes and came across the statement again. Dr. King said, “Good leadership has more to do with asking the right questions than it does with providing the right answers.” As I read that again, the question came into my head, “Why?” I tried to answer the Why question for myself and wanted to share with you what I came up with.
Most of us have been programed by our educational system to strive toward becoming an answer person. We have information poured into our skulls from grade school onward; the idea being that if we can only stuff enough data into that empty skull, then we will make that individual a productive and successful member of society.
We all probably know someone (and perhaps that someone is you) who would laugh at the notion that good questions are more valuable than good answers. I mean, after all, in the competitive world of business, we need answers not a bunch of theoretical questions. Right? Well, yes for the immediate and for the urgent that is probably true.
If there is a tornado tearing down your street, you want to know where the nearest shelter is. You don’t want to sit around and contemplate whether or not that is a good question.
Nevertheless, I still believe that great leaders are better at asking the right questions than they are at providing the right answers. Here are six reasons why this is so.
- Right answers are position-centered; right questions are principle-centered.
- Right answers are transitory; right questions are enduring.
- Right answers produce pride and fossilization of ideas; right questions produce a spirit of inquiry and agility.
- Right answers point to the past; right questions point to the future.
- Right answers contract and isolate; right questions expand and connect.
- Right answers produce followers; right questions reproduce leaders.
It is true, good leadership has more to do with asking the right questions than it does with providing the right answers. But this is not only true of the individual leader; it is also true of organizations. Great and lasting organizations build their industry on asking the right questions. Once they have discovered a new and successful answer; they immediately begin applying anew their questions to the current and future situation because they know that today’s answers can easily become tomorrow’s blind spots.
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.