Who Owns This Question?

Different people on teams ask different “motivating questions”, and understanding who owns the question may provide your team with a huge breakthrough. Here’s why.

Some people most commonly ask the question, “When?” They are driven to action. They want to know, “When are we going to do something?” Others ask the question, “How?” They want to know, “How are we going to do this?” A third group basically focuses on the question, “Why?” Their concern is, “Why are we doing this?” Finally, the fourth group asks the question, “What?” They think often about possibilities and ask, “What if we tried something new?”

  • When?
  • How?
  • Why?
  • What?

Here’s my observation: to be an effective team player, you have to own your own question. Translated: You have to answer your own question!

Now, I want to distinguish between “fact-gathering questions” and “motivating questions”. Fact-gathering questions are questions that you cannot answer yourself. These are questions that relate to what you do not know, but you need to know. If you try to answer these “fact-gathering questions” without listening to others, you frustrate your co-workers who do know the answers; you perpetuate your own lack of knowledge; and you are likely to build upon a false set of presuppositions. Good leaders know what they know. Great leaders ask about what they don’t know. You need to ask “fact-gathering questions,” but you cannot answer them yourself.

However, when it comes to “motivating questions”, you have to answer your own question. In fact, if you do not answer your own “motivating question”, you will frustrate your team, frustrate yourself, and deprive your team of one of the biggest contributions that you can make to its success.

Why is this so? Your team doesn’t really know the answer to that question, but you do. It is not the same as a fact-gathering question. It is a question that motivates you, but it doesn’t motivate others on the team. They are motivated by other questions, so when you try to get them to answer YOUR “motivating question”, you are asking them to set aside what really motivates them and be motivated by what motivates you!

If you answer your own “motivating question”, it creates synergy and makes the other team members’ questions more relevant. In other words, there’s no reason to ask, “How should we do this?” if there’s never been the answer to the question of “What should we do?” The motivating questions are all interdependent on each other.

So, if you want to really help your team to perform, don’t be afraid to answer your own question and let go of the expectation that someone else can answer it for you.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. Another home run. We really do, in some cases, have the ability to empower our own selves. Its time to take self motivation to a new level. Thanks for this! I needed to read it this morning.

    1. I’m glad it benefited you, Enna!

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