Asking the right questions to secure your work future

by Connie Henson, Learning Quest

“You are really not going to like it,’ observed Deep Thought.

‘Tell us!’

‘Alright’, said Deep Thought….

‘Forty-two,’ said Deep thought, with infinite majesty and calm…

Forty-two!  Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?…

I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Leadership has traditionally been about knowing the answers. Likewise, in business, we have rewarded leadership styles that exude calm certainty about what is ‘known’.

However, expectations are changing and similar to our heroes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we need to shift the way we think to thrive in a world where we rely on machines for answers.

Computers already have superior memory and vastly better calculation capacity than the human brain. The impact on knowledge workers is – and will continue to be – significant. For example, why do we need:

  • A finance team to crunch numbers and produce a few financial models when a machine can produce a dozen different models in minutes?
  • Doctors to memorise a few hundred diseases and their symptoms when a machine can learn thousands and quickly compare symptoms across any number of circumstances to arrive at an accurate diagnosis?

So, if the human beings’ job is not to know the answers, what is it? Is there a job for us?

One thing we positively need now and in the future is leaders asking questions to deeply understand the challenges, risks, needs and opportunities faced by individuals and businesses. We also need these professionals to understand ‘the answer’ and to work with us to figure out how to apply this knowledge.

If asking – versus telling – seems like a new requirement for you, then consider the many instances where we know the answer but can’t seem to make it work for us. For example, who doesn’t know that eating right and exercising will make us more fit? Or that faster adoption of new technology at work will give us a quicker return on investment (ROI)? Or that we really do have to reduce our emissions for the planet to survive?

The real challenge for leaders and knowledge workers today is helping people make the adaptations that are required to implement the answers.

Asking questions is one way to foster adaptation.

Did you know that neurologically questions are powerful ways to create learning and inspire behavioural change? Asking the right questions helps us overcome resistance to implementing new ways of working and living by prompting us to:

  • Think deeply about our real needs and goals and build the resilience to cope and thrive even as the world shifts
  • Develop the empathy to recognise that people may be unequally impacted by changes and figure out ways to fairly manage the losses associated with making required changes
  • Dig deeper to understand precisely why implementation is hard
  • Work together to creatively find a way through complexity and uncertainty.

The reason that this technique is so powerful is because questions cause us to think and process things more deeply. Answering questions make the insights more personally meaningful and therefore memorable.

So, what is the challenge you are facing right now? Whom do you want to engage to find a way through? What is the question you will ask today?

At this year’s DISRUPT.SYDNEY we ask questions about managing innovation, disruption and change from within. Join us at this year’s conference to hear a diverse range of views and share your own!

Dr Connie Henson is a member of the DDRG and author of BrainWise Leadership. Connie designs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through her company Learning Quest. Follow Connie on Linkedin

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