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Socratic Leadership

Consider it a “new era.”

In today’s workplace, the Socratic Model is a novel yet time-proven method of leadership. It is a proven, comprehensive path to success. The Socratic Method of leadership is based on the questioning techniques used by Socrates 2,500 years ago to teach by questioning, requiring his students to examine their knowledge base and beliefs. For the questioning process to be collaborative, the leader will often ask open-ended questions that allow the team member to expand on ideas and listen carefully with no prejudgment. While the Socratic Model is an excellent team-building method, there are several factors to consider, from the tone of the question to timing and the context in which it is being asked.

Having deep conversations about significant intellectual and emotional issues requires an environment that regards confidentiality as sacrosanct. It also means that no one should ever feel like they are being judged. The more senior the rank, the safer and more confidential the environment will require. It means that a safe environment must be created to get to the heart of any matter.

Asking questions is one of the most effective tools to get the results you want. Whether you are a CEO or in any other position, being Socratic in your interactions is the way to learn more, to gain clarity, and to understand the reasoning behind how decisions are made – both good and bad.

When a leader brings a particular challenge or opportunity to a peer advisory group for consideration and advice, she or he will benefit from having a formal process that guides the conversation. The process helps formally frame whatever issue he or she is dealing with at the time. The process helps the individual by asking, “how do I…?” Using the first person promotes ownership and urgency. Next, the individual explains why the issue is essential and what has been done to address the issue to date. He or she then asks for specific assistance from the group members. Then, armed with this information, the group members ask clarifying questions that bring an issue to clarity.

This valuable interaction can only take place in a safe environment. It is often called the “Las Vegas Rule.” When used in a meeting, the rule says that whatever is said in the meeting must be kept private to the people in the room and should never be repeated to others.

While this may seem simple, it is a robust framework that includes properly framing an issue, asking questions informed by experience, and leveraging the group members’ collective wisdom. It is about seeking out the best information to make the best decisions.