Are You Asking The Right Questions?

Mike Harden | | Thinking Strategically

Think about all the times in the past that you were uninformed about a project, event, or issue that was going on inside your company. How many times have your trusted advisors and key employees only given you part of the story? How many times have you kicked yourself in the butt for not knowing all the facts when you made a crucial decision? This isn’t uncommon for a lot of CEOs…because they don’t ask the right questions, or they don’t ask enough questions.

Sometimes, we feel that asking questions diminishes us. Obviously, as CEO, we should know everything, so asking too many questions may make us look stupid or uninformed. Too many CEOs have that attitude or belief. What they fail to understand is that as Chief Executive Officer, you are also the Chief Enquiring Officer. It’s part of your job description to ask probing and penetrating questions to help clarify the issues before decisions or commitments are made. It’s your job to question your staff to make sure they understand all the underlying issues as well. It’s just too easy in today’s rapid fire world to assume that you have all the information and that nothing else is hanging out there, unknown and waiting to bite you in the ass later.

Well What Questions Should I Be Asking?

What many CEOs don’t understand is that it is actually very easy to ask questions, even when you don’t know which questions to ask. I coach my CEOs to keep in mind the following six words: “who, what, where, when, why, and how.” If you can just remember these words, you will always be able to ask sufficient questions to dig down into an issue.

I can sit in any meeting, listening to a speaker go on about some topic of little interest to me, and ask enough questions to figure out what he’s really talking about. Moreover, I can often drill down deep enough to find something new that hadn’t been mentioned, or more importantly, find something the speaker hadn’t even thought of.

Taking The Investigative Journalist Approach

The technique is easy. Just keep the six basic questioning words in the back of your mind (who, what, where, when, why, and how), and use those to formulate your questions. For example, you can be discussing a project, and in order to dig deeper into the information and get yourself better informed on all the issues, you start asking questions like these:

  • Who is the person that will be running this?
  • What processes are you putting in place to prevent errors?
  • When does the client want the second delivery?
  • Where is the main server to be located?
  • Why is this approach better than the previous way we implemented this system?
  • How do you intend to measure the results?

These are only examples, but you get the idea. You can formulate any of hundreds of different questions that probe the issue deeper by simply drawing upon these six words.

Keep asking these kinds of questions until you feel you have all the information you need, and that no underlying issues are still lingering. Many times, as you ask these questions, you will surface issues that had not been discussed or identified. Keep yourself out of trouble, stop making bad decisions, and stop letting your staff hide things from you. Remember what Socrates once said: “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

Mike Harden

Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor, and coach. Today, as one of DC’s premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Find Mike on Google+

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