Great Leaders Ask Questions and Listen

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on March 28, 2011

Although everyone agrees that communication is a very important skill, research shows that it is crucial for leadership success. When business owners think about becoming better communicators, however, their knee-jerk solution is to do things like talk to employees more often, send more messages, or let people know more information. In other words, they believe the solution is to do more telling. While it is true that telling—speaking fluently and frequently—is an important aspect of effective communication, asking the right questions and listening are also essential.

To understand the impact of these three skills (telling, asking, and listening), we looked at data from 2,867 leaders who were assessed by their managers, peers, direct reports, and others on communicating powerfully, asking effective questions, and listening. The results were surprising. Eighty-eight percent of leaders who were rated as extraordinary did all three of these communication skills fairly well (they were at the 75th percentile for all three skills).


Great communicators do give compelling speeches. They also ask pointed questions to ensure that others understand, and then they listen carefully. Doing any one of these behaviors well individually yields very little, but combining the three skills has tremendous impact. The next time you receive feedback that you need to improve your communications, don’t assume that others just want to hear you talk more. Start by asking a question such as: "What information would be most helpful?" Combining all three of these behaviors together can have a profound positive impact on your business.

Joseph Folkman
Co-Founder and President
Zenger Folkman
Orem, Utah

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