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Questioning Questioning

by Leadership Participant

When discussing leadership we tend to focus on good leadership practices. While this is important, I personally have learned a lot over the years by observing bad leadership practices which I then actively avoid. The recent MOR Tuesday Readings on asking questions made me remember one of these examples of bad leadership, which I call: “Questioning Questioning.”

At a previous job, I had an important leader call me into an unscheduled meeting. He started by asking how I liked working on his projects and whether I wanted to continue working on them. After I somewhat confusingly answered “Yes,” he got to the heart of the matter. He said, “You ask too many ‘why’ questions…it slows you and the rest of us down…sometimes you just need to do what you are told.” He generally seemed to think my questions were thoughtful and reasonable, but they simply took up too much time (and maybe he also felt it undermined his authority). 

This was shocking to me. Understanding why we do something is not only a fundamental requirement for being an Auditor, it was (and is) fundamental to my identity. It is how I build my understanding; how I strive to improve. In addition, I have always been taught how thoughtful questioning is critical to a team’s success. This was recently reemphasized for me by MOR’s recent Tuesday Readings, and by a book called, “Wiser” by Sunstein and Hastie. “Wiser” highlights a number of factors that contribute to the downfall of teams based upon recent research studies. They conclude that team members’ reluctance to question group decisions is one of the largest contributing factors as it allows for unfettered groupthink.

To be fair, I can now partially relate to my former leader’s predicament. I am currently in a role where I am responsible for both leading and periodically managing. Sometimes the manager in me is tired from long hours and just wants everyone to simply focus on the deadline and their assigned tasks. Sometimes I feel like I just cannot take one more “navel gazing” question about why we do what we do. However, whenever I feel this way I remember this example of bad leadership. I remember how important it is to find the time to explain rationales and answer all thoughtful questions. I remember it is critical for the questioner’s growth, and for my team’s success. I remember, I must not start Questioning Questioning.