Why are questions important?

After 10 years of quiet observation, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally asked a question during oral arguments. This was a big deal, like a really big deal. Almost as surprising as Guns n’ Roses making a comeback at the Coachella Valley Music Festival this Spring. And though the nature of the question was sort of irrelevant to the case, it seems like Justice Thomas has caught on to one of the best kept secrets of leadership: Asking questions.

There are many reasons why leaders must ask questions. Let’s focus on the following two: questions foster innovation and help drive a leader’s influence.

Think about a group project tasked with hosting a well attended event. Most teams would focus on the what and the how, and would likely be successful. But a good leader would aim to draw out the ‘why.’ One way to do this is by asking questions. “What message can we spread to build agency and really encourage people to attend?” “Why is it important that we host this event?” And my personal favorite, “Why are we doing it this way? How can we make it better?” Questions like these are not always easy to answer, but to have the greatest impact they must be asked. Ultimately, infusing personal and group work with critical questions about why we are doing what we are doing, and how we can do a better job, will help ensure effectiveness and fruitful learning.

Another way questions can build significant leadership is in the scope of mentorship. As a leader, many of us are mentors. As mentors, one of our primary roles is to guide and shape future leaders on a path of success. By asking tough questions to help mentees understand what they value and why they value it, mentors can really make a difference. This will not only expand your influence, but more importantly, you will enjoy seeing rising leaders reach their full potential. Like this little puppy, soaring through the wind:

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