The More Important Question That’s Almost Never Asked of Leaders

You’re familiar with the common scenario where someone half-jokingly asks for advise for a “friend”. Everyone knows the “friend” is actually the person asking the question.

Well, that scenario happens in leadership all the time.

I call it:

The question behind the question.

The question behind the question may be the more important question. 

Sometimes it’s just a simple question and nothing is hidden in it. But sometimes, whether because of fear, insecurity or intimidation, people are hesitant to share what’s really on their mind. They ask questions or make statements which are really innuendos of a bigger issue.

Let me give you a simple example.

Someone on your team asks, “Are we going to evaluate our response to the Pandemic?” That’s a fair question. With all we’ve been doing, we should evaluate our effectiveness.

You could simply say “yes” or a “no” and the question is answered. But there’s likely a bigger question behind that question. Someone has some input or feedback, maybe even a critique, they want to share which prompted them to ask the question.

And that’s what you really want or need to know. 

It may or may not be the fault of the leader which causes the “real” question not to be asked, but good leaders look beyond what’s being verbalized. They attempt to discern the motive and intent of the question or statement someone makes.

Good leaders ask follow up questions to make sure they understand the question being asked – and ultimately the concern being expressed.

When someone is asking the leader a question, the leader needs to consider if the question is the real question or if a disguised bigger question exists.

They need to ultimately get to the unspoken questions.

In fact, the health of the organization may depend on uncovering what is not being communicated.

Next time someone asks you a question consider whether there is a question beyond the question.

It could make all the difference.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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