In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, one of attorney Atticus Finchâ€™s bedrock principles is to â€œnever, never, never on cross-examination ask a witness a question you donâ€™t already know the answer to.â€ Otherwise, you might get an answer you donâ€™t want, which could wreck your case.
That may be a good principle for trial lawyers, but itâ€™s actually a really bad idea for businesspeople. In fact, the mark of a great leader is really the question mark.
This idea of asking questions kept popping up when my good friend Billy Samoa Saleebey appeared on this episode of The Combustion Chronicles. And thatâ€™s not just because Billy hosts two top podcastsâ€”For the Love of Podcast and Insight Outâ€”where he asks a lot of questions he may not know the answers to. In fact, he said asking questions is a superpower of visionary leaders like Elon Musk.
When Billy was head of global sales and product training at Tesla, he saw firsthand how Musk used that superpower. On conference calls, Billy said, he â€œwas brilliant at asking hard questions about why we do this, why do we do it that wayâ€¦. He challenged people to get past what they perceived as obstacles or barriers.â€
Questions were a big part of what Billyâ€™s team taught Teslaâ€™s salesforce. He wanted to flip the script on old-school car shopping, so salespeople were taught to ask themselves and their customers lots of questions: â€œWhat type of customer are they? Are they the type of customer thatâ€™s going to take it on road trips? Are they the type of customer that likes the performance of the vehicle? Are they the type of customer that wants to have the technology?â€
Understanding what your customers want lets you not only meet their needs but surprise them (which is one of our experience principles at MOFI). Billy said that became one of his own superpowers in the years he spent waiting tables. He learned that the better you know your customers, the more youâ€™re able to surprise and delight them.
Speaking of delightful surprises, Billy gave one more example of somebody whoâ€™s good at asking questions: the singer Taylor Swift. He explained how Swift, before she was a megastar, would host parties to get to know her fans. Some of these parties, he said, were â€œalmost like a wedding where thereâ€™s all these round tables and all her fans are sitting down and she would go from table to table and meet each fan individually.â€
Even today, Swift still holds secret listening sessions for new albums. She even bakes cookies for her guests. (Iâ€™m still waiting for my invitation, by the way!)
Taylor Swift and Elon Musk are two of the most successful people on the planet, and they both know the power of asking questions. How about you? In your business, when was the last time you asked a question you didnâ€™t know the answer to?
As an experience evangelist, Shawn Nason (founder and CEO of MOFI) partners with human-obsessed and maverick-minded people and organizations to rethink their Experience Ecosystemsâ„¢. Click here to learn more.