August 2012 | Nano Tools | Leadership
Contributor: Marilee Adams, PhD; President and founder of the Inquiry Institute; Adjunct Professor at American University, School of Public Affairs, in the Key Executive Leadership Program; and author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work.
Quickly change the mindset of your team — or yourself — from being “stuck” to finding possibilities and solutions.
Our mindsets are determined by the questions we ask. Some questions have the potential to catalyze breakthroughs and inspire transformations. Others lead to stagnation and demoralization. The difference lies in whether you ask Learner Questions or Judger Questions.
“Learner Questions” are open-minded, curious, and creative. They promote progress and possibilities, and typically lead to discoveries, understanding, and solutions. By contrast, “Judger Questions” are more closed-minded, certain, and critical. They focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity, and inertia. Learner Questions facilitate progress by expanding options; Judger Questions impede progress by limiting perspectives.
It’s natural for individuals and teams to ask both Learner and Judger Questions, but without Learner Questions, results suffer. Leaders who can effectively distinguish between the two, cultivating a Learner mindset, can improve the performance, productivity, and morale of their teams and their organizations — as well as heighten their own success as a leader. Studies by Peter Heslin, Gary Latham, and Don VandeWalle demonstrate that when managers shift to a learning mindset, they’re more likely to recognize changes in employee performance and spend greater time coaching, mentoring, and developing their employees.
Typical questions in the Learner and Judger mindsets often look like this:
Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton argue that there’s often a gap between what we know and what we do in organizations, and this applies to mindsets. People intuitively recognize the value of a Learner mindset, but often find it difficult to enact.
However, research also shows that it’s worth the effort. Teams that operate with a Learner mindset are more productive, motivated, and engaged; and research by Stuart Bunderson and Kathleen Sutcliffe show that learning orientation can enable business units to achieve higher profitability.
By changing the questions they ask, companies can shift mindsets and behavior to produce remarkably more positive results.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions at Wharton Executive Education. It is jointly sponsored by Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem, Director. Nano Tools Academic Director, Professor Adam Grant.
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