“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Inspirational leaders are very skilled at asking questions. They are known for doing more seeking than telling. Asking questions and approaching interactions with a beginner’s mind can inspire shared learning, prompt reflection, and deeper understanding on both sides. There are different types of questions that leaders ask to guide reflection and understanding in others. These include:
- Context questions look at the known information and explore the facts. These questions typically start with, “Who,” “What,” “When,” or “Where.”
- Causal questions get closer to the heart of the matter. They are designed to surface motivations, thinking, and feelings. An example: “What thought processes went into making that decision?”
- Challenge questions are designed to push thinking and encourage insights into possibilities, opportunities, consequences, and boundaries. These questions are intended to explore connections and outcomes, which often aren’t obvious. An example of a challenge question is, “What happens if nothing changes?”
- Calibration questions help the others explore the full range of potential outcomes. They mark the final step in prioritizing and converting thoughts and words into concrete actions. Calibration questions are always action- or solution-orientated. A good example of a calibration question is, “Based on what we’ve discussed, what direction do you think we should take?”
Asking questions is also a powerful tool that can be used to cultivate patience and compassion within ourselves. When we choose to be curious, we nurture our ability to be patient. With all the demands and stresses we encounter in a day, it's easy to find ourselves jumping to a conclusion, judging or using dichotomous "Black and White" language/thinking (e.g. Joan is a bad friend).
Knowledge is powerful but being able to embrace the ‘beginner’s mind’ and ask questions is a great way to avoid ‘unconscious competence, complacent decision-making or sliding into ‘unconscious incompetence’.