Years ago, when I started teaching martial arts, I discovered the power of asking effective and thought provoking questions. The skill of guiding people to think of and realize solutions on their own, thereby resulting in greater motivation to act on those solutions with much more enthusiasm. Everyone likes to come up with the answer on their own, not be lectured or told ‘don’t do this’ or ‘you need to do that’.  I also discovered the higher level of respect, appreciation and trust gained from people in contrast to the results from merely telling people what to do or ‘managing’ them.   It was purely by accident while listening in on a conversation between my instructor and martial arts great, Mike Stone.

Mr. Stone essentially made the ‘beating the dog too much’ analogy….the idea that if most of your communication is exclamatory statements, negative commands, i.e. “Don’t do that, do this”, “That’s the wrong way”, “No, no, no”..etc, the people you are coaching will eventually become like that dog that has been beaten too much. They will either hide in the corner, do nothing and perhaps make a mess on the rug or they will at some point turn around and bite you! Seems a bit primal, but humans instinctively react the same way.

The solution was  in asking effective questions whenever possible and letting that person come to the correct answer on their own. It looked something like this:

“John, which kick feels more powerful to you, #1……..(Pow! into his target) or kick #2…..(POW! he kinda goes flyin).”

“Well, kick #2 was definitely more powerful.”

“Do you know why? Where you doing kick #1 or #2?”

And so forth….John realizes that there is a better way on his own and the motivation to get past his comfort zone is internal.

But it’s challenging to lead this way, it requires a much more refined communication skill, patience, listening and of course cultivating the ability to ask effective questions. It’s much easier for people to simply ‘manage by command’ or lecture or preach…especially in business.

Later as a rookie business manager, I applied the same principle to coaching and leading my teams. Rather than tell the answer, ask “what’s the right answer?”. That is not to say that I did not have my moments, didn’t hold people accountable for actions or became slightly empassioned  about expecting my team to give their best. There is a time and a place for using the “Just do it” conversation and as one former manager called it, “putting on the horns and tail”. You will find that people will take those occasions more seriously when they are the exception and not the rule, plus they will respect your more as a leader. I think if you ask most of those who have worked for me or been one of my martial arts students, they would attest to the truth of this principle. If you have a chance, take a look at my other site and read what some have to say;

Lastly, I leave you with the sales master, Jeffrey Gitomer….Here what he has to say about effective questions;

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