Most people think leadership is all about having the right answers. Perhaps this is because people turn to their leaders in times of uncertainty to show them the way. But I have found that it is far more important to ask good questions. As my friend Tom Bland once told me, the essence of leadership is making sure people are focusing on the right things while the essence of management is making sure people are doing those things right. Answers are essential to good management, but asking good questions is what leads you to where you need to go. So if you want to lead, you need to develop the capacity to ask thought-provoking questions.
This insight also applies to students who are in search of their futures. Students go to school in the hope of finding answers: learning techniques and perspectives to help them master a body of knowledge, land jobs and start careers. But much of this information tends to be answers to other people’s questions: in other words, how to do something right. It rarely tells you if you are focusing on the right things for you. Discovering the right path requires that you get out of your comfort zone and engage in meaningful dialogue with others. You need to develop the capacity to form good questions, the courage to ask them in uncomfortable settings, and the willingness to listen to answers you may not want to hear.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on September 10, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley