Leadership People Skills: Questions vs Questioning Our Authority

Leadership People Skills: Finding the balance between engagement & authority.

Leaders today know that questions are one of the pathways to employee engagement, great teamwork, and organizational success. 

The leadership people skills mantra is: Engage. Don’t dictate. Tap the talent you hired! Encourage questions, engage their talents, empower their performance.

Now picture employees asking questions of you, the leader.  Are you always open to them?  Are there times when the questions are a burden or a risk to success? Do you ever feel the questions actually question your authority? Do any of your teams see questions from other teams as questioning their expertise?

Before answering, consider the following moments where it’s not so simple.

Leadership People Skills: Image is question marks w/ talk bubbles

Leadership People Skills: Question vs Questioning Authority Image via Istock.

Image licensed from Istock.com

Leadership People Skills: Questions vs Questioning Authority

  1. Organizational Team Culture. Picture an employee who has made the move from academia to industry. The employee’s questions seem endless and sometimes an assault on your position.

    Consider that in academia, learning and discovery is THE goal and questions are the lifeblood. In industry, the goal is profit. Questions are a key pathway yet not THE lifeblood as in academia. Challenge: The employee’s mind and behavior needs to shift to a new culture. Leadership people skills tip: Instead of seeing questions as questioning your authority, discuss the cultural transition with the employee. Explore the different role of questions and the profit goal industry. Clarify before judging!

  2. Organizational Structure. Large companies have many departments/teams with specific areas of responsibility. Leaders have seen these structures grow into silos. This often blocks success as cross teamwork struggles in the face of territory issues.

    Realize that the bond that holds a team together is the very thing that blocks bonds from forming between teams. Can you picture diverse teams asking questions of each other and everyone seeing this as completely positive? Or would they wonder: “Why are they questioning us? We’ve been doing this well for many years!”

    Challenge of cross teamwork: Trust and openness is based on relationships. These often don’t exist between teams. The common goal alone doesn’t bond them. Leadership people skills tip: Speak and lead collaboratively across teams from the start. Don’t pit teams against each other. Some members from each team may end up on a project team together and waste precious time defending their authority as each question arises! For teams to welcome questions from other teams, you must build relationships between teams.

  3. Intentions. There are power players and manipulators at work. They seek to dominate and control. Their pattern of behavior speaks volumes about their true goal. Some do it all the time. Others do it in the face of impending change they don’t like. In any case, they ARE questioning authority directly or indirectly.

    Challenge: Addressing the behavior without squelching questions and employee engagement.

    Leadership people skills tip: When teams first form, re-form, or grow, discuss the role of questions as well as boundaries and decision making. Although it won’t initially stop a power playing employee, you can reference the initial discussion as you address the power playing behavior. It also bares the power playing behavior on the table. The power player can’t hide behind: “I thought I was being an empowered team member.” Foresight and discussing the role of questions helps everyone.

  4. Leader’s Personal Needs. I’ve had leaders I was coaching say to me: “I know I have a great team. Yet I don’t like people questioning my authority.”

    Challenge: Self-awareness. Leadership people skills tip: Write down your definition of authority. Then note everything it represents to you — and be gut level honest. How does authority make you feel? What feelings do you have when you sense someone is questioning your authority. Who are you without authority? Reflecting on this awakens self-awareness that will bring you tremendous success as a leader.

  5. Exuberance of youth. As new generations enter the workforce, they bring a wonderful exuberance and energy. With this often comes free wheeling questions and impatience. Some also need to develop maturity in understanding the impact of their words and actions.

    Challenge: Blending exuberance with experience. There are many generations in the workforce and any extreme focus on one generation creates resentments.

    Leadership people skills tip: Do office based team building activities that focus on balancing exuberance and experience. It develops emotional intelligence, builds mutual respect, and breeds comfort with questions that cross lines of authority and seniority. Secondly, when some employees push for immediate answers call on the value of time. “All great questions. Some of the answers will emerge as we go.” As a leader you are asking for patience and trust and that’s OK.

To help everyone be comfortable with questions, discuss the types of questions the team finds valuable and types that are not valuable.

Also, address extremes instead of shutting down questions. Review this as new team members join and coach them as needed.

Blend different generations into bonds of respect. Build trust through team building and a collaborative culture so that all will use questions as a pathway to a shared success not as a vehicle for domination.

Question: In your experience, when do questions most often cause mistrust?

If you would like suggestions for the specific leadership people skills challenge you are having, just let me know. I am an experienced resource who keeps on learning!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
People Skills: Essentials to Seeing Others’ Views
Leadership, 5 Essentials to Building 21st Century Teams
Teamwork People Skills: The Critical Moment to Handle With Ease

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

4 Responses to “Leadership People Skills: Questions vs Questioning Our Authority”

  1. Kate Nasser is one of those writers who takes my breath away. She ties all her points to specific examples in subtantiating her arguments. When Iinitially read, “Not So Obvious People Skills” this past February, I immediately related her concepts to my own experiences as a workplace violence security consultant. I see Kate’s examples at the core of most if not all workplace conflict; the central theme being ineffective communications and attitudes leading to unresolved disputes conflict. “Not So Obvious People Skills” touched on contributing behaviors that lead to misunderstanding. Though I couldn’t put my finger on the common denominator then, “Leadership People Skills: Questions versus Questioning Our Authority”, narrowed the behavior down to an authoritative leadership style – It’s my way or the highway. I hang on to Kate’s every word because her observations are worthwhile considering leadership attitudes that affect morale. In, fact, Kate’s writings have a dramatic input on my workplace violence incident assessments as well. Thank you for adding such value to my work.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Felix,
      I am honored (and humbled) by your feedback. Also very very grateful to know that what I am doing is making a difference. As a consultant, you don’t always get to see the end result. Your words have filled a void.

      Warmest wishes and thanks,

  2. Khalid says:

    I second Felix’s message! Kate your writing helps and it makes a difference on how I view things with my team!



  3. Kate,

    Your post reminded me of a linked question, which is as a leader do you ever get things wrong?

    If you do then you open yourself up to “questions” which will make you feel threatened.

    But if you don’t then you will always be operating on safe ground and never learn anything new.

    What sort of leader never learns anything new? Probably one who doesn’t lead for long.


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