5 Questions Leaders Should Quit Asking

Leaders can shape organizations by their questions, but some of the most common ones are also most detrimental.

A Harvard Business Review blog post written by Warren Berger, an author with interest in how questioning can lead to innovation, identifies five questions leaders should avoid asking.

The post features insight from David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and a pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry, the decision-making analysis based on the idea that questions with positive language that focus on strengths are more useful to organizations than questions with a negative focus.

1. What's the problem? Variations include: What's our biggest threat, what is broken, what's going wrong, etc. Mr. Cooperrider says these questions are "the starting point of 80 percent of meetings in management," according to the blog post. The problem with these questions is they fixate the organization on problems and weaknesses rather than strengths and opportunities. These are better questions to ask: What are we doing well and how do we build on it? What's the ideal outcome and how do we get closer to it?

2. Whose fault is it? Hint: It's unlikely one person is entirely to blame when something goes wrong. When leaders ask this question, they're trying to target a scapegoat, perhaps in an attempt to shift blame from themselves. A better approach is to focus less on blame and ask the team, "How can we work together to mitigate our weaknesses?"   

3. Why don't you do it this way? This question, disguised as a friendly suggestion, is really a vehicle for leaders to impose their way. If leaders have the right team, they shouldn't have to control how work is done. Rather, they should help the team define their own ideas and approaches with questions like: How were you thinking of doing it? What do you have in mind?   

4. Haven't we tried this already? Tone is especially important when asking questions such as this. Leaders should question proposed strategies, but not in a way that condescends or sounds defeatist. This question can zap moral. It suggests everything has been thought of already, and because the organization tried something once and it didn't work out, it shouldn't bother again. This is a better question to ask: If we tried this now, what would be different this time — and how might that change results?

5. What's our iPad? Questions like this, not only about iPads but any novel product, tend to come up when leaders panic about a competitor's latest venture. Why haven't we come up with something like that? Why aren't we gaining ground in that space? This encourages a Keeping up With the Joneses mentality, in which people think it's their job to imitate the other guy as quickly as they can, according to the blog post. Better questions to ask include: Why is our competitor succeeding with this? What need is it meeting? How might we use our particular strengths to do an even better job of meeting patients' needs?

More Articles on Leadership in Healthcare:
Call to Action: Why CEO Recruitment Must Change
The Profile of an Effective Healthcare Leader
4 Ways Hospitals Can Foster More Female Leadership


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