In an interview in Newsweek, Peter Ueberroth, organizer of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and former commissioner of Major League Baseball, was asked, “What do you look for in a young leader?’’ Ueberroth replied,
When you get past integrity, you go to curiosity. [When I observe young leaders] what I’m so surprised by is, everybody wants to talk—to make a presentation, to do something rather than ask questions. The smartest people are the ones who continue to drive for information.
This reminds me of the old story of the two people at a reception. After a lengthy monologue, a talkative man said to the person next to him, “Well, I’ve talked about myself long enough. What do you think about me?”
A good leader knows that he or she does not have all the answers; in fact, the leader may not even understand the situation. Asking good questions is the key to finding answers for oneself and for helping other people to discover their own answers. A friend of mine who is a personal coach points out that if you help a person solve a problem by giving advice, you have helped him with that specific situation, but when he faces a different challenge, he will tend to come back to you (or someone else) for a solution to that problem. The person has learned dependence rather than discernment.
Good coaching and effective consultation are based on asking the right questions and letting people discover their own answers. It is really the Socratic method of teaching—framing questions so that the student discovers things for herself.
In some ways, this takes a lot more time and work—at least initially—but this is how leaders are formed. They learn to process situations by asking good questions because it has been modeled for them.
Ueberroth is right. Good leaders ask good questions.