One Simple Habit that Elevates Leaders
A friend of mine, who knows I interview top leadership experts from around the world, asked, “Had any great interviews lately?”
I told him about a call from Buenos Aires and a conversation with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz.
I told him the title of Claudio’s recent book “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who.”
I was ready to share what I learned from one of the world’s top talent experts. But he didn’t ask and I didn’t say.
Any fool can ask the first question; wise leaders ask the second.
Perhaps he thought he already understood the importance of getting the right people on the team. Maybe he was too busy or didn’t know how to ask the second question.
I feel sad, not just for him but for me.
How many times have I moved forward in blissful ignorance because I didn’t adopt the second-question habit?
You stood face to face with pivotal opportunities and missed them because you didn’t ask the second question.
5 reasons we stop with first questions:
- Image protection. We don’t want to look like we have something to learn.
- Time pressure. We don’t have time to gain wisdom.
- Curiosity deficit. We just aren’t curious.
- Respect shortage. The person talking is “below” us. They’re younger, less successful, or less experienced.
- Self importance. Big headitis destroys leaders.
No one makes you wise.
- What are you learning? — How are you changing because of what you’re learning?
- What are you doing? — What’s important to you about that?
- What problems are you solving? — How are you solving them?
- What frustrations are you feeling? — How are you solving your frustrations?
- What’s working for you? — What have you done to produce success?
What heights might you reach if you adopt the second-question habit?
What second questions elevate leaders?
How can leaders develop the second-question habit?
Want to elevate your leadership? Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is speaking at the World Business Forum in NYC on Oct. 7-8. Use the discount code: LEADERFRK for a $200 discount on registration.
Dan, there are mornings that I am convinced that you have surveillance equipment in my office. Just as your post came in, I was wrestling with a response to a challenging new client. As I read your piece, I realized that in my email I was not asking him enough questions. e.g., “Why do you feel this new methodology will work better than the last one you proposed?” “Which one of these do you think will work better for a nascent organization as opposed to a mature or more established one?” “Why do you think that?”
Second question. Great habit. Thanks and cheers!
Thanks Steven. I think we need regular reminders that questions often take us further than statements. Best wishes for the journey.
Thanks for this post. I just finished reading this book this week and sharing it with our leadership team. Excellent insights. I have shared this blog post with them as well.
Thanks nalson1. Claudio’s book is awesome. Thanks for sharing this blog and for leaving your first comment. Best wishes.hgnfda
I love this, Dan – and add that questions 3, 4, & 5 are really where the good stuff lives…
The first questions give top level info but are also a guide for what else to ask. Great leaders are amazing listeners and those first questions can lead to others that will reveal deeper set beliefs, feelings, fears…the type of info that allow leaders to make much more effective decisions on how to remove barriers and lead people toward shared, mutually beneficial goals. I actually built a model to help leaders coach employees in this way using specific types of questions so was really drawn to this article today – it is a passion of mine because I also know the importance.
Bringing up the awareness that we often forget to ask the deeper questions is so valuable – thanks for your article today, Dan!
My questions for you…what kind of valuable leadership advice are you hoping to provide for your readers in the next month or 2? Where do you currently feel a bit stuck? In which ways have other leadership experts like Claudio helped you most in the past? How can I most effectively help you? If you’d like, feel free to send me some questions that would help you help your readers.
Thanks again for this article and all the great work you do!
Orange, I like that.
I’ve always been a second question kind of person, so that’s where I begin and even deeper third questions that delve into the motivations behind the thought processes that spur the second question round are my meat and potatoes.
Dan,,, I call it orange questioning. When you eat an orange there are two layers… You can get the peel off but that’s just the start ( the first question). Once you have the peel off you have to deal with the pith ( the second question).
Thank you for your recommendation of Claudio’s book. I read it last week going from LA to Washington. Beautifully written, emotionally and rationally compelling. The core message that high potentials have curiosity, insight, engagement and determination feels exactly right!
This was brilliant. Want apply this practice of asking the second question.
Sent from my iPhone
Love this post Dan. It is a good reminder for me. Thank you.
This may be my dumb question of the week or month; but I don’t get why people in general don’t ask questions. When somebody is delivering a lecture, it sometimes seems to me that I’m the only listener with questions. I listened and asked questions at a grand rounds lecture last Tuesday and generated eleven questions. Same situation Thursday at a different medics school where I came up with seventeen questions. Rather than hog the Q&A, I wrote out
all my questions and emailed them to all the speakers involved (and had all my answers back by yesterday).
Oh my goodness, yes. The “Second Question” is the game changer in conversation. It is born of curiosity, guided by empathic listening, and formulated by emotional intelligence. Nothing can replace it.
As a naturally curious person and one genuinely interested in others, I find asking questions to be extremely important. I have found that asking questions sometimes puts people on guard, so I try to do it in a way that communicates sincere interest and curiosity and not as a “gotcha” moment. I’m adding these questions to my toolbox and ordering the book this week. Thanks, Dan!
I’m absorbing a new division into my organization, and these questions are what I’m going to be asking my new direct report – to educate myself better and to show the genuine interest I have in where we, collectively, go next. Thanks!
I guess this gives a different meaning to the phrase – well begun is half done.
This is an excellent point: “Curiosity deficit. We just aren’t curious.”
Asking more questions is especially important in large organizations that have long histories. Often, out of date reports and processes continue to be produced, even when their purpose has passed, because nobody has ask questions.
People who are curious and willing to learn alone will raise the second question. For others it is just another of those conversations. Irrespective of our age and experience and position, we must not hesitate to seek out and learn. Be ready to admit that we do not know or would like to enhance the knowledge. Ego has no place here.
I like this post as it really postulates a leader as a learner, which I believe all great leaders are. In the article you said “Any fool can ask the first question; wise leaders ask the second.” I know this doesn’t flow as well as yours, but I would say “Any wise leader asks a wise first question, then the second.” My point is that, yes any fool can ask the first question, but a wise leader will ask a first question that allows for a wise second question.
I work in retail and I have trained my staff to ask at least one non-store related question. This helps to increase communication so you can then ask a better (more relevant) second question. If you don’t ask a good first question, you may never have an opportunity to ask a second question.
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