Questions — The lifeblood of survival

As an entrepreneur and leader, when you grow in stature, your organisation becomes larger, and you become more successful. Based on your success, you learn to trust your own judgement and reasoning — your experience tells you that, mostly, you are right. So, your own success and the exterior signs of this success create one of your biggest problems, one not too dissimilar to that of the famous people or royalty: Whom can you trust? Or, put slightly differently: Who will tell you their true thoughts or views?

Being heavily influenced by Greek culture, read: Greek wife, I think one of the most powerful methods of understanding the true views of somebody is the Socratic method of critical thinking and questioning:

Socrates asked people questions to reveal their irrational thinking or lack of reliable knowledge. Socrates demonstrated that having authority does not ensure accurate knowledge.

He established the method of questioning beliefs, closely inspecting assumptions and relying on evidence and sound rationale. (source: Wikipedia)

This is much harder than it sounds, as leaders are mostly rewarded for making decisions and taking actions. And doing so quickly.Asking incisive and informing questions requires preparation. It also requires listening and hearing what is NOT said — in short, it requires being present. Not easy for a stressed-out, time-poor entrepreneur or management team in a great hurry to build a big business. One more thing, the added benefit of great questions: they often build buy-in to subsequent decisions, as the arguments for a decision should reveal themselves, given the right line of questioning.

The reference above to “authority” also refers to you as an entrepreneur and leader. This is where the arrow points the other way: How do you get your teams to ask the difficult questions of you? By virtue of your success and your position, this may be hard, and it is very much down to the culture you are creating in your business. How is the questioning encouraged? Authority most often confers decision-making powers, but, as Socrates rightfully pointed out, it does not mean accurate knowledge or understanding. It goes further than that:

Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight.

He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. (source: Wikipedia)

We can laugh at the statement above and point fingers at our present-day politicians, who clearly have justified the 2,400-year-old skepticism. But as leaders and entrepreneurs, we must also look ourselves in the mirror and understand whether we are working from the right foundations for our decisions.

The question is: What are your questions? In your next meetings, what questions will you think of before starting the meeting? What are the important points to drill into? How do you arrive at the core of an opposition point of view? What can you learn from it?

Follow the ancient Greek method: Ask questions!