Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Leaders as Askers of Questions

In my view, good leaders ask questions. Lots of them. So why do I think that good leaders are askers of questions?

The team gets used to the idea that leaders are not the only person with all the answers. This then helps to create a free flow of information within the team. Everyone gets to participate. Asking encourages everyone to think, to be solution-oriented, to take responsibility, and to SHARE. That provokes critical thought processes & deeper learning (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009).

Having leaders ask regularly, and then LISTEN, shows the value of everyone's opinions in the group (empowers), and builds respect.

That then leads to a developmental approach within the organisation, where everyone in the process grows, stimulating learning, expanding awareness, creating new ways of dealing with problems, innovation and creativity.

Those things, all taken together, helps to avoid group think (Janis, 1982).

Inger Mewburn (2012) suggests that a key aspect in "becoming a scholar is learning how to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your [own] work." I think the same is true of leadership: we must be clear-eyed enough to identify where our strengths and weaknesses lie.

She goes on to say, "But there's a difference between trying to do good quality work and cutting your own head off with your scholarly light sabre. One of the things I like to do with my students us to give them a series of standard critical thinking questions adapted from Browne and Keeleys’ 'Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking'.”

Browne and Keeley's (2011, after Mewburn, 2012) questions are:
  • "What is the argument about and what is being claimed?
  • "What are the reasons given to support the conclusion? Is the reasoning flawed in anyway?
  • "What kind of evidence is being presented (i.e. intuition, appeals to authority, observation, case studies, research studies, analogies, etc) and how good is it?
  • "What other explanations might be plausible than that offered?
  • "Is the conclusion provided the most reasonable? Can you identify alternatives?"
Collectively, these questions are a good test of whether an idea, be it a leadership or a scholarly  issue, is sound.

And a key final point: there are no dumb questions.


  • Browne, N. M. & Keeley, S. M. (2007). Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking (8th ed.). Longman
  • Daft, R. L. & Pirola-Merlo, A. (2009). The Leadership Experience (1st Asia-Pacific ed.). Cengage.  
  • Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (2nd ed.). Houghton Mifflin.
  • Mewburn, I. (2012). How To Tame Your PhD. Thesis Whisperer Books [ ebook]