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Want to Be a Stronger Leader? Challenge Your Assumptions

The key to becoming a successful leader lies in asking a lot of questions.

10/10/2013 | Leadership and Management | 2 minute read

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Harvard Professional Development

The most successful leaders ask a lot of questions. Purposeful inquiry can open minds to new opportunities, ideas, and solutions. But, like so many other keys to strong leadership, it requires a mindful approach.

Many of the hurdles we face as managers hinge on the assumptions we make, like why a business strategy failed or how a project got off course. The key is to become more aware of these often-unconscious assumptions and begin to challenge them.

According to Marilee Adams, an executive coach, our mindsets are driven by the questions that run through our conversations and internal dialog. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, she presents two mindsets: “the learner” and “the judger.” Guess which is the saboteur.

Learner questions are focused on solutions and lead to understanding, progress, and discovery: “What am I missing? What actions might I take?”

Judger questions are reactive and lead, well, nowhere productive: “Why aren’t we outperforming the competition? Who’s at fault?”

Adams assures us that we all have learner and judger moments. But we have a choice from the outset to ask the right questions and to steer ourselves—and our teams—toward a productive path.

Check out the choice map Adams created.

Think about a recent challenge your team faced. How might asking learner questions have changed the outcome? Can you change your team’s mindset to inspire questions that arrive at solutions?

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