The Question-able Habits of Successful Leaders

January 18, 2013

Habits of Successful Leaders

Habits of successful leaders can be punctuated with a question mark!

“Excellence is not an act but a habit that we repeatedly do.”   – Aristotle

In conducting over 100 interviews of highly successful leaders in multiple disciplines, I learned that exceptional leaders know what questions to ask and when to ask them. For these leaders, asking questions is a habit that they repeatedly do.

Questioning is a Hard Skill not a Soft One

Books and articles about leadership tend to focus on decisions, not questions. That’s because readers prefer clean narrative arcs and a relatively small cast of characters. We like to see leaders struggle a bit with adversity, but then rally the troops to victory. We value resolve and pride in leaders more than curiosity and selflessness.

When leaders ask others not only for their input, but to make their own decisions and accept responsibility, it doesn’t make for as good a story. The reasons for success are harder to pin down, the heroes spread throughout the organization. But which leader would you rather work for–the one who makes all the decisions or the one who trusts you to do your job, take risks, and learn?

Some hierarchical leaders consider asking questions a soft skill, but they don’t realize how much heavy lifting questions can do. They don’t appreciate how hard it is to ask the right questions at the right time, in order to engage and elevate everyone, not just themselves.


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