Leadership: Knowing the Right Answers, or Asking the Right Questions?

The Harvard Business School blog Working Knowledge recently discussed a new book by HBS Professor Robert Steven Kaplan, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror. He suggests that CEOs that want to know what’s going on in their business be sure they are asking the correct questions.

“Show me a company, nonprofit, or a government leader that is struggling, and almost invariably you’ll see someone who isn’t sufficiently focused on asking the right questions,” says Kaplan, a Professor of Management Practice at HBS. “Most leaders spend a lot of their time looking for answers. Very often, they may feel isolated and alone. I want to help them refocus their attention on framing and then discussing the key questions that will help them regroup, mobilize their team, formulate a plan of action, and move forward.”

In his book, Kaplan argues against the notion that great leadership is about having all the answers. He believes that leadership skills can be learned–and that many of these skills require executives to rethink their conception of what a superb leader actually does. Developing and practicing these skills requires hard work and may demand that talented executives overcome some degree of discomfort and even anxiety in order to raise their game.

Among Kaplan’s recommendations are:

  • Leaders need to address critical issues including: vision and priorities, time management, giving and getting feedback, succession planning and delegation, evaluation and alignment, being a role model, and reaching true potential.
  • Leaders must have a clear vision and a set of priorities for the organization, and must ensure that their key subordinates know what those priorities are.
  • Because CEOs don’t have the benefit of feedback from their superiors, it’s crucial that they solicit feedback about their leadership style from subordinates.


Share This:


Leave a Reply