Leading with Questions: A New Approach to Business Restructuring

January 9, 2024
Greatness as a leader happens with you ask

In the midst of a global pandemic, I found myself coaching a CEO of a prominent professional services firm. He was considering a drastic measure: eliminating his acquisitions team. This scenario is common among leaders I work with, who, under immense pressure, often default to a single question: “How do I cut costs?” This post will help you learn how leading with questions leads to great leadership that will change your business results.

The Challenge of Shifting Questioning Paradigms

The true challenge in today’s complex crisis is not the issues themselves but the leaders’ inability to adapt their questioning to these unprecedented times. Habitually, leaders revert to familiar queries like, “How do we trim unnecessary expenses due to dropping revenues?” This repetitive mindset restricts their ability to view situations through a fresh lens.

When discussing with the CEO, I shifted the focus by asking, “In the current climate, what’s a novel approach to acquisitions?” This question paused him, and soon, an innovative idea emerged: capitalizing on market lows to take on debts from those unwilling to persevere for another decade.

This simple yet powerful shift in questioning opened a realm of new possibilities for the CEO, illustrating how the right question can pivot the entire direction of a discussion.

The Art of Leading with Questions

It’s essential to realize that most of us only utilize about 25% of the potential questions at our disposal. This limitation keeps us stuck in a mental rut. But how do we tap into the vast array of unasked questions? It begins with a fundamental leadership principle: Are you asking enough questions?

Good Leaders Ask Questions, Great Leaders Question Differently

The paradox in leadership lies between the skills that earn one a leadership role differ from those needed to excel. Leaders often ascend to their positions by providing answers. However, the hallmark of a successful leader is not having all the answers, but frequently and effectively posing questions.

In my extensive interviews with renowned leaders, from media executives to military generals, a common thread emerged. Effective leaders spend a significant portion of their time asking questions rather than answering them. This approach fosters engagement and accountability throughout the organization.

In my book, “Just Ask Leadership,” I explored this concept. Great leaders not only ask frequently but also ask varied types of questions. Enabling them to unlock new insights and perspectives is the key.

Diversifying the Question Portfolio

Leaders often don’t realize their tendency to repeat the same question types. It’s not about having a magic question but about self-reflection on the kinds of questions you’re prone to ask. Whether you’re an Innovator, Director, Judge, or Professor, each leadership style has its unique questioning approach.

At CO2 Coaching, we developed a leadership model that categorizes these styles along two axes. These two axes are Perspective to Evaluative and Knowledge to Action. This model has been tested and validated among organizational leaders and HR professionals, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness.

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