5 TED talks on asking questions to be a better leader

- Leadership

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by Jennifer Riggins

That old adage about our two ears and one mouth may have led us to roll our eyes at our parents one too many times, but it stands to reason. If you ask management influencer and professor Gianpiero Petriglieri, we are reducing leadership down to an MBA-sized set of skills which is causing disconnect between leaders and followers. Instead managers and educators — and managers in their roles as educators –Petriglieri says we should put continue to question the meaning of leadership.

But what he really thinks we should be asking, as we look to become better managers and leaders, is: Who are we? While you may cringe at this meaning-of-life answerless question,  in an interview on Work. magazine, Petriglieri said that:

People increasingly use leadership development and business schools generally as identity workspaces. They use such courses and institutions not only to address questions of competence and skills, but to answer existential questions — who am I, really? As a result, leadership development often affects leaders’ aspirations, as well as their abilities.

Now, I’m not one to root for MBAs, but I do admit that many of the leaders of today and tomorrow have these expensive degrees, and certainly we can learn from them. As a former psychiatrist Petriglieri has learned a lot from observing this next generation of management. What he’s noticed is how aspiring leaders personalize their learning — as we all do — relating it to their personal history and experience.

For this, Petriglieri says that he doesn’t believe in just preaching to them, but rather aspiring and actual leaders need space to reflect and self-question. So I thought this month’s TED talk list wouldn’t offer any answers but focus on a lot of questions.

David Stork: How to ask good questions

Sometimes being able to ask a good question is more important than finding a good answer.

This is how David enigmatically kicks off his TED talk. He points out how we are taught how to solve problems in school, but not how to make them. The secret to true innovation falls in the latter. Managers aren’t even looking for problem-solvers anymore, they are looking for the creative souls who ask questions. This is why David gives his interesting talk on an important skill we aren’t learning — question posing.

The goal isn’t finding an answer, but rather understanding something. Through this talk and this practice, you have the ability to be a better leader.

Mike Vaughan: How to Ask Better Questions

 Learning how to think is learning how to learn. Or to learn, unlearn and relearn quickly.

Of the 15 most important global issues that are affecting our lives, even putting us at risk, one of them is capacity to decide. Why are we unable to make decisions? (Or as many of my friends do, they think indecisiveness is a valuable attribute?) The worry that Mike points out is that we are being taught what to think, not how to think.

Mike takes us through the process of creating a vision for growth within an organization. In a nutshell, the most successful people ask others’ perspectives which enables them to overcome the conflict, create a common language and therefore create a shared vision. His TEDx talk offers tips for just how to do this.

Alan Duffy: The Power of Simple Questions

If the sun is so hot, why is space so cold?
– If the universe is infinitely large and infinitely old, no matter where I should look out at the night’s sky, my eye should land on a star. If everywhere in the night’s sky I should see a star, then the entire night’s sky should be blindingly bright and yet it’s not. So why not?

One question comes from a young girl who likes science and another comes from an 18th century astronomer. Is it hard to guess which one asked which? For Alan, cleverness doesn’t come from asking challenging questions, but rather asking the simple ones.

His TEDxYouth talk is a pleasure to watch. It will leave you pondering his intriguing (though I’m not certain simple) questions, and it’ll leave you thinking that, maybe why kid ask you “Why is the sky blue?” and another few thousand Why questions, you make not just respond with “Just because it is!” again. And when you want to understand something complex, like the people in your organization, maybe you too should ask a simple question.

Michael ‘Vsause’ Stevens: Why do we ask questions?

What is the best cheese to use to catch a bear?

I won’t spoil the punchline to this totally “me” joke, so you’ll have to watch this punny TED talk to hear. But interestingly enough Michael starts off his talk with the often annoying child’s Why Game, but pointing out that we as adults fail when we lose the Why. He’s made his whole life around this question, bringing people in with his often bizarre questions, like “What does a shadow weight?” and “Why are things creepy?”

Michael believes that anything can be interesting to anyone, so long as you take the time to get to know that person to learn what it is that would make it meaningful to her life or his experience. This is a great technique that can be applied to becoming a better manager, increasing employee engagement and invigorating passion in your team.

Dan Moulthrop: The Art Of Asking Questions

Asking a good question is sort of executing the act of curiosity. Curiosity begins with a thought and typically what follows is a question, and ultimately what follows from that is a lot of learning, and that’s really what curiosity is all about.

From his point of view as a heavily questioning journalist, Dan offers his rules for asking questions, which I will summarize below:

  1. Don’t be afraid.
  2. Be curious.
  3. Try the obvious question.
  4. Words matter.
  5. Strive for empathy.
  6. Be informed.
  7. Be simple.
  8. Be gracious.

But what he really drives home is to ask questions like not “What do you do?” but “How do you feel about what you do?” Dan teaches us the power of the words we use and how we can use them to ask powerful questions that lead to even more powerful answers and relationships.

What are the questions good leaders should be asking?

And of course, now comes the audience participation part of this blogpost. What questions do you ask? What is that one question you ask your teammates that leads to better employee engagement? Better team collaboration and conflict resolution? Answer in the comments below:
What are the questions we should be asking?

One thought on "5 TED talks on asking questions to be a better leader"

  • Lía Goren says:

    I work as a family and education consultant around relationships and good communication adults-children. The porpouse is to they become better on give to children support in order to increase motivation, creativity, in create good thinking opportunities and open minds, etc

    Since a few years I start to put my attention on the subject of “questions” and on the children ability to make them.

    But I feel always worried when I see that this subjects arrive first at the management area but late (or never) at the children environment of learning. Is sad that they need to pass a lot of years at school and then need to relearn (if they have the opportunity, the luk to know it).

    My question is:
    Why corporations, managers (not politics) can’t push to the curricula and schools, no matter the country they live, no matter private or public the are, in order to learn children do better questions?

    And, may be, another important skills than only probably learn a small elite of people.

    We don’t have enough time to repair our world, on a lot of dimensions. We need a lot! of good thinkers, as Vaughn say. And as Humberto Maturana say: the future of children are we, the adults.

    Thanks for post and share!

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