Before you object to leading questions per se, generally discouraged in direct questioning in a court of law or by neutral journalists, consider their appropriateness as a leadership tool. If a leader directs someone to do something, the best they can hope for is compliance. If they ask completely open questions, they might get any answer. But, if they ask leading questions, they can lead their followers to get to the right answer and direction themselves.
Findlaw defines a leading question as “one that leads a witness to an answer.” Media College defines a leading question as one “which subtly prompts the respondent to answer in a particular way” and goes on to say that “leading questions are generally undesirable as they result in false or slanted information.”
But that’s exactly what leaders are trying to do: lead or prompt their followers to an answer in a particular way with frameworks for thinking that influence choices and prompt the highest impact actions.
A lot of organizations have used Toyota’s 5 Whys technique to drill down into the root causes of problems in their Six Sigma work. Root causes analysis is a critical step in Defining, Measuring, Analyzing, Improving and Controlling. Other questions can lead people through other frameworks.
As readers of these articles are well aware, BRAVE questions are one such framework. Let’s dig into other questions across Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment, looking outside-in and starting with Environment.
Next-level BRAVE questions
Environment – Where play?
Dig in here to challenge possibilities. Ask “What could happen?” to get at the context, situation, and platform for change. Dig into understand the current reality, potential scenarios and options.
Ask “What do we know?” “What if?” “What else could we do?”
Don’t shy away from the 99% questions, being open to being surprised: “I’m almost positive I know the answer, but….”
Values – What matters and why?
These questions are designed to clarify motivation. Ask “What do we want and why?” to get at mission, vision, and values. You’re trying to get at what we won’t give up along the way.
This is a good place to deploy “Why?” questions to dig in and “What would that do?” to move up benefits ladders.
Attitude – How win?
How win questions guide interdependencies. Ask “How do we get there?” What you’re probing for is what’s in the way or what’s holding us back and then thinking about how we overcome barriers and bridge the gaps. Ask “What other options might we consider?” Be on the lookout for strategic linkages and unintended consequences.
Ultimately, you’re leading the group to choices.
Relationships – How connect?
Connection questions are about expanding influence organizationally. Ask “How do we bring others along?” Ask “Whose help do we need?” And “How do we persuade them to join our cause?”
Here you’re leading the group to enhance its influence – the indirect or intangible effect they have on others, based on what they do, how they do it, how they communicate it, and who they are.
Behaviors – What Impact?
Impact questions get at what we’re actually going to do operationally. Ask about deliverables, steps and contingency plans. Impact is the direct and observable effect the group has on the entities you deal with.
What we believe to be true is often a product of having a bias. In an article on asking the right questions, Gary Cohen points out five biases that can unduly influence leadership and decision-making. Make sure your questions remove rather than reinforce these.
- Negative bias: A negative experience has a larger impact on your memory and leads you to believe that certain roads are to be avoided to a greater degree than a quantitative analysis would demonstrate.
- Frequency bias: Hearing or seeing something repeatedly over time makes you more inclined to believe it.
- Recent Bias: When making a decision, something you learned just recently will often carry more weight than information you learned a while ago.
- Attachment bias: Leaders can very easily become overly conservative and avoid making the right decision simply because they don’t want to disrupt the status quo which they helped achieve.
- Escalation bias: When you start down a path, you look for evidence to support your direction and, at your peril, choose to ignore warning signs.
Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #742) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.