The adage goes that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I’ll go with that. Sometimes, even the “stupid” question will stimulate discussion and thought that wouldn’t have happened had everyone just gone along. Therefore, it’s important for engineer leaders to develop the courage to ask any and all questions that come to mind. There have been situations throughout my career when I didn’t ask a question because I assumed I knew the answer or that the question I had wasn’t important. While I like to think of myself as someone who’s always engaged, and engaging, the fact is I would sometimes leave ambiguity on the table.
This isn’t the case any longer. Through experience – both good and bad – I’ve learned that you never leave ambiguity on the table. When a question arises in your mind, ask it. If the answer isn’t available from the team, then ask the next question: “who has the answer?”
A leader doesn’t need to have all of the answers herself, but does need to have the courage to ask the question and then find out who does have the answer.
Reasons to Question
If there were such a thing as a list of unalienable rights for leaders, the right to question would be listed. Along with providing a vision and providing the resources/environment for a team to succeed, a leader has the right to question.
If you’re new to leadership or not comfortable with questioning, here are seven reasons to exercise your right to question:
1. Stimulates Creative Thinking and Problem Solving. Asking questions of yourself or your team can get the creative juices flowing and help to generate different courses of action for solving problems. The range of questions is infinite, but here are a few to get you started:
What is the problem and how do we know that?
What are the three ways we can solve it?
What if these aren’t available to us? What’s another way?
Who can help us develop solutions?
The questions you ask in stimulating creative thinking can always be bolstered with the simplest question to ask: why?
Practitioners of 6-sigma use the 5-Why exercise to determine the root-cause of issues. It’s highly effective in understanding the underlying components of any issue and will help illuminate the relationship between the root-causes. And it’s extremely simple to use in any situation.
2. Improves Processes and Procedures. In any leadership role, whether in business, the public sector or a non-profit organization, you will find processes and procedures. This managerial action is vital to any organization’s ability to get things done, deliver value and provide a product or service. Without processes and procedures, modern life would be hell!
However this doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be room for improvement with these processes and procedures. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution came the start of the science of management. Total Quality Management, Rapid Improvement Events, and the body of knowledge in 6-sigma and LEAN, each is focused on improving the processes and procedures of organizations.
As an engineer leader, you don’t have to be a certified 6-sigma black belt or have hours of study in Total Quality Management principles to use questions to make the processes and procedures in your organization better. You simply need to know that it might be done better and ask questions such as:
How could we do this better?
Does this process/procedure generate the result our customer/client/the boss needs? If not, why?
How much time do we spend on this process? Could we reduce it?
Can I delegate this process? Outsource it?
Does this procedure enable good decisions and a quality product/service, or hinder it?
3. Leads to Insight and New Ideas. Often times the best way to accomplish something is the way you know how to do it. If you know that process A yields desired result B, fixing something that isn’t broken will be a waste of time and energy. In this case, using tried-and-tested methods is smart. However, you might be faced with a situation where the tried-and-tested doesn’t work because the environment has changed, technology has advanced, or you and your team are simply out of touch with what’s needed. read more