I attended a business conference last week where one of the plenary session speakers was a retired Navy officer. He made the assertion that your most powerful tool as a leader is questions. He talked specifically about what he called, “Depth-Charge Questions.” During World Wars I and II, a depth charge was a type of bomb that was dropped into the sea and exploded when it reached a certain depth. It’s purpose was to damage enemy submarines causing them to surface so you could capture or destroy them.
That’s a perfect analogy for a retired Navy officer. The depth-charge question, then, is one designed to surface things that could be potentially dangerous to your organization. He went on to quote Voltaire who said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” John Maxwell (who was the keynote speaker at the same conference) said, “you can tell the size of a leader by the questions they ask.”
The Question Behind The Question
What makes a good question? That’s a good question! If you Google it, you’ll find 35 great questions for this and 101 questions for that, and even 1,001 questions for something else. So, it depends on the conversation and the purpose. I sometimes like to ask, “What’s the question behind the question?”
People will often ask a timid question as a way of putting their toe in the water to test the temperature of the topic. “Who did this task?” They may ask. If I ask what the question behind the question is, I may learn they are really concerned about the training program. That’s what we need to talk about. Good questions probe reality. They dig beyond the surface to discover motives, issues, genuine concerns, etc.
QBQ – The Question Behind The Question
John G. Miller wrote a book entitled, QBQ – The Question Behind The Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and Life. A second sub-title is, “What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, Complaining, and Procrastination.” Someone recommended this book to me years ago. I read it and, admittedly, borrowed and slightly re-interpreted the title for my approach in the last section. But, I highly recommend the book.
Personal accountability is a growing deficit in life and work. More and more, people are living and working below the line of accountability and engaging in the victim cycle. They play the blame game, they pretend they don’t understand, they CYA, they avoid responsibility, etc. Miller suggests that if we ask different questions we can turn that around.
One of his chapters is called “A Poor Sailor Blames the Wind.” Bingo! That about says it all. The first chapter is an amazing account of someone who took personal responsibility to the next level. I’ll leave it to you to get the book and read it. Hint: if you follow the link I provided it will take you to a Nook sample of the book and you can read the story there.
Good Questions Have an “I” In Them
Don’t ask this kind of “Why” question:
- “Why is this happening to me?”
- “Why do we have to change?”
- “Why don’t they communicate better?”
Don’t ask these other kinds of questions:
- “Who dropped the ball?”
- “When will we get what we need?”
- “When will leadership walk their talk?”
You get the idea. Good questions have an “I” in them:
- “What part of this [problem or solution] did I contribute to?”
- “What can I do to make things better?”
- “Who can I help today?”
There are literally thousands of other examples of good and bad questions. Here’s my question for myself, “Am I asking the right questions?” Here’s my question for you, “Are you?”