Leaders Don’t Ask Leading Questions

There’s a podcast that I love listening to, it’s called SmartLess. You may have heard of it, and if not, by all means go check it out! Just be warned, it has adult content in it. But it’s hosted by three celebrities: Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes; and I love the format. So one of the celebrity hosts is in charge of getting the guest for that week, the other two have no idea who the guest is going to be – until they show up on the video, in the live interview.

And true to podcast interview form, they’re asking questions throughout. Well, one of the celebrity hosts has a particular way of asking questions – and he’ll remain nameless, but if you listen to it, I’m sure you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. He asks really insightful, amazing questions that I can’t wait to hear the guest’s response to. But this host, after he asks the question, he provides examples. Now, these examples are not necessarily how we might think of a traditional leading question, right?

You may have found yourself in a similar situation, where someone’s asked you a question and they want you to answer in a particular way. I had a boss who used to do this. He would ask the question and then he would keep answering or giving these examples or asking in a way that was just trying to get me to answer how he wanted to hear the answer.

This is not what this host is doing, this is not what I’m talking about. Instead, this host, as they’re asking this question, I believe has already thought of how they themselves would answer the question based upon their own experiences, their own thoughts, their own feelings. No ill intent by any means, but then after he asks the question, he says like, is it this, or maybe it’s this? All based on the interviewer, the question asker’s experience.

What’s the risk here?

We see this happen in organizations, in households, everywhere when we’re in communication. But especially I see it with leaders when they’re speaking to their direct reports, where they know they need to ask questions, but they insert examples after they’ve asked the questions, and those examples are primarily based on their own experiences. The risk here is that the person being asked the question, in this case, a direct report, is now thinking about these examples.

Maybe they just say, “Well my manager said this and so I’m going to answer this way,” or those examples kind of shut off their own thoughts around why this happened. So as we think about asking those questions, be aware. Be aware of that intent, where even though the intent is good, you may be unintentionally leading someone down a path as you provide your own examples after the fact!