Asking Questions by Questioning the Socratic Method

January 2, 2012
Asking Questiongs

Socratic Questions

Asking questions often brings to mind Socrates and the Socratic method. Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher who used questions to test the logic of opposing viewpoints during dialogues with his students. He would often begin by defining key terms. His questions usually pointed out the contradictions or weaknesses of his students’ hypotheses before revealing an argument supported by superior logic. Although Plato argues that Socrates didn’t know the answers in advance, that’s hard to believe based on how deftly and assuredly Socrates leads his pupils to conclusions.

Business school professors frequently use the Socratic method to engage students and encourage them to think critically. It’s an effective method in that setting, but it does have limitations elsewhere. The Socratic method works better in business school, for instance, than it does in business.

Unlike Socrates and business school professors, business leaders don’t know and shouldn’t be expected to know all the answers. When business leaders try to provide all the answers, they fail themselves, their coworkers, and their organizations. These leaders become overworked and overextended, and don’t have the opportunity to refresh their knowledge in key, fast-changing areas. Coworkers don’t get a chance to make and learn from decisions, and grow into future leaders. The organization fails to capitalize on all its brainpower, build new leaders, invite new ideas, and prepare for the leader’s eventual departure.

In business, the Just Ask Leadership method works better than the Socratic method. Just Ask leaders aren’t afraid to ask questions and allow others to supply the answers. Just Ask leaders hold their coworkers accountable, but don’t lead them by the nose to the answers that they want and expect to hear. They lead trusting and trustworthy organizations of highly motivated, aligned, and accountable workers.

Reach your next peak

We help leaders expand the change they want to see in their teams, organizations, and the wider world.