No one person has all the answers all of the time. The world is just too complex, moves too fast and has too many variables for an executive to know everything and be right every time. Great executives, including great CIOs, know this and therefore demonstrate mastery not by the answers they give, but by the questions they ask.
Good CIOs ask questions about the issue, its causes, impact, cost and implications. These questions often center on the CIO gaining information about the issue or decision. They help the CIO, but they may not build the skills or understanding of the CIOs team.
Great CIOs ask good questions pretty much all the time. A good question is one that creates knowledge and shares understanding. A good question makes both parties smarter. Most questions are not great questions. Helpful yes, but they simply exchange information from one side to the other.
Great questions show that you understand and have been listening to the conversation. Great questions contain your thought process and show your way of thinking about the issue, they show that you are thinking about it, its implications and the next steps. The answers create understanding and action; they move the issue forward rather than admiring the issue and all its complexity.
Here are a few thoughts on the types of Great Questions:
- Logic checking questions – If that is true, then these other things must be false?
- Implications based questions – So given this issue we are also seeing these other things happening?
- Proof of fact questions – so how do you know the issue is happening and what are the consequences?
- Forward looking questions – so given all of that, what are the next steps or how do you suggest we take?
A good question takes effort to formulate and ask. So, when someone takes the time to ask a good question recognize that they are making an investment in you rather than looking to embarrass or interrogate you. It may seem hard, but I have learned more by the questions people have asked than the answers I have given.
Great CIOs recognize that they do not have all the answers and that every answer or plan can be strengthened with good questions. Questions that transfer knowledge and build understanding are good ones. Questions that train others, let them explore scenarios and test their thinking are also good but often infuriating. Such questions are the basic tools of the Socratic method executives need to build the skills of their team.
Either way, an indicator of the difference between a good CIO and a great CIO is in the questions they ask.
What is the best question you have asked?
Or, more importantly had to answer?
How do you know that you are being asked a good question?