Are You Asking the Right Questions?
10 years ago

Most people, when they evaluate their own leadership, they think about two things. First, they think about what they say — what comes out of their mouth — and then they think about the perception or the reaction that they see other people having to that.  I say think about your own leadership.

You’ll might imagine yourself in a room with a group that you are leading. You’re speaking and then you’re looking at their faces to see how they’re reacting to how you’re speaking. If they’re reacting in the way you want them to – for example, they seem motivated or they’re receptive or they’re charged up or working together or whatever it is – then you have a self-evaluation which is “I’m a good leader”.

Some of the more sophisticated of you will say, “No, no, no, Bryan. I don’t look at that. What I look at is the results. Is the team that I’m leading producing results?” This is arguably a more effective thing to look at. However, since you can’t truly A/B test, you cannot go back in time with the same team with a different leader and the same circumstances. You’re not likely to actually know whether it was your leadership or some other environmental factor which produced those results.

So, every time that you say you measure your own leadership based on the results, there’s a little bit of a lie in there. There’s a little bit of self-deception.

What’s a different way that you could measure your own leadership that has less of a propensity for self-deception?

Measure the quality of the conversations around you.

Measure what you feel the quality of the conversations had by others in your presence is.

Think about it. Imagine a person that raises the quality of the conversation every time they’re in it. You probably talk about that person as a good leader.

So, you can increase the quality of your leadership by having a more profound effect on the quality of conversation.

Now. I suppose you can make the same argument that the quality of conversation could be good because the quality of the other people are good and that you’re just witnessing that. But you can actually measure whether or not your interaction with them raises the quality of each conversation.

What do I mean by quality of conversation?

There are four attributes of a high quality conversation:

  • empowerment
  • possibility
  • openness
  • congruence or integrity

Higher quality conversations are spoken by people who are empowered.

Conversations about possibility and options are higher quality than conversations about reasons and excuses. “Here’s what we can do about problem X” is a higher quality conversation than “Problem X sucks and we’re screwed.”

Conversations in which people are open to change their mind and are adapting new points of view are higher quality conversations than those which are designed to convince each other about pre-existing points of view.

Conversations that have a clear emotional integrity or alignment between the content of the conversation and the purpose of the conversation are higher quality than those that aren’t.

Those are all examples of higher quality conversations and what you’ll notice again and again is there’s one way that’s superior to others for increasing the quality of conversation in others:

Ask high quality questions.

Try this: sit and listen to a conversation for a few minutes and then ask a high quality question, based on those factors I just mentioned: empowerment, possibility, listening and openness to a new point of view and congruence or integrity.

When you ask a question that requires the listener to position themselves in order to answer, then you’ve raised the quality of conversation.

Imagine a CEO in an executive team and the executive team is talking about the fact that they’re losing market share to a competitor in light of new legislation which has turned against them and it’s favorable to the competitor. The conversation goes on for a few minutes talking about the legislation and how it was close to not being passed, but then ultimately it got passed and didn’t that suck and here are all the ways, and this is my concern and yes, it has this other negative impact and this is what they’re going to do about it.

Then the CEO stops the conversation and says, “Well, if six months from now we look back on this legislation change as the greatest gift of something you’ve ever received because prior to this, before this we couldn’t see. What do you think that possibility is? How is it a gift and what are the actions we can take now to take advantage of it?” Each person is going to answer once.

Now the quality of conversation in that room is completely altered and it was really the leader that did that. It was leading the group to a higher level of collaboration, a higher quality conversation.

You can measure your own leadership by the quality of conversations around you.

I think most of you will find that you are more intelligent than the conversations that happen in your presence, which is a failure of leadership.

What you want to be shooting for is that the quality of conversations around you feel more intelligent to you than you are and when you’re doing that you know you’re leading well.

It’s kind of counterintuitive.

Quality questions is a practice. I recommend writing down quality questions when you hear them, thinking about them ahead of time, and keeping in mind those four attributes of a high quality conversation because the quality question is going to ask the listener, again, to do those four things: empowerment, possibility, openness, and congruence or integrity.

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