Positive leaders ask more positive questions. They have learned through experience and training that the quality of their results and the results of those they lead will get better or worse depending on the questions they consistently ask.
Questions influence learning, emotions, actions, and relationships. Negative questions like, “Why did you fail to reach your goal?” will generate answers, but the ideas that surface from that form of inquiry will be disappointing at best. You will learn about the root cause of the failure, but you and the individuals answering your questions will feel frustrated, defensive and fearful of the future. The negative emotions that follow these conversations damage relationships and produce poor results.
On the other hand, when a leader asks their teammates or their teenagers about the root cause of their success, individuals reveal stories about what’s working for them. As a result, positive emotions are produced, individuals are more confident and committed to continue the positive actions that helped them be successful, and relationships are strengthened.
Positive questions are not vague. You are not asking what someone thinks or how they feel, hoping to get an optimistic response. Your questions literally require the other person to search their memory banks and create an empowering “true” story about a time when they excelled.
Here are some examples of questions requiring a thoughtful and positive answer:
“Where have you been most successful this year?”
“What kinds of challenges bring out the best in you?”
“What leader has had the most positive influence on you in the past?”
“Who have you had a positive influence on?”
You can also use positive questions to make crystal clear what matters most to you as a leader. If you want your organization to be known for providing consistently remarkable service, ask your team about the times they went the extra mile to exceed someone’s expectations. If you value business development, ask about best practices for attracting new clients. Each time you get an answer, ask another positive question about something the speaker just said. Three to five follow-up questions will help you get an accurate understanding of the specifics of their story and the sources of their success.
If you are ready to start asking more positive questions during your day, remember to stay UP (Unconditionally Positive). Positive leaders spend less time advising and judging and more time asking positive questions and learning. If you currently devote a great deal of your day to solving problems and putting out fires, it’s important to be aware that fire fighters feel a need to direct the behavior of others. This is also a time when you are more likely to ask a negative question about what went wrong. The problem is, no one you work with or live with wants to be criticized or told what to do. As the leader, you will always be able to command compliance from the people who work for you or the family members who live under your roof, but you can’t command commitment and engagement. Remember, not every fire has to be put out by you. It’s also important to note that you and your organization will be much better off when you learn to get better at fire prevention. Positive questions can help you achieve that objective.
You can begin to apply the principle of asking more positive questions by identifying your number one virtue at work right now and creating at least three positive questions you can start asking today. The same process can be used for your family. Identify what’s really important to you as a leader at home and create some positive questions that reflect that virtue. Your co-workers, clients and family members will thank you for focusing on the root cause of their success in the past. They will also amaze themselves and you with the results they produce in the future.
Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin