Saturday night, I returned to the site of my 9th grade prom, Black Knight Country Club in Beckley, WV, for another memorable event: my 20th high school reunion. While the music blared in the background and the sky outside flashed with lightning, I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in, well, 20 years, unless you count Facebook.

You may be wondering what kind of leadership lesson I can draw from a high school reunion. Here it is: effective leaders know how to ask good questions.

Leadership is influence, and influence happens in relationships. Relationships are built with others through all sorts of interaction. Last weekend’s reunion reminded me that one key to strong relationship in any setting is asking good questions.

When you ask good questions:

People share stories. I heard a memorable story Saturday night about how a friend met her future husband backstage while volunteering to help with costumes at a local theater. Within days, he took her shopping for an engagement ring. Twelve years later, they seem to be thriving in their marriage. In the workplace, you can build relationships with others by taking the time to ask the kinds of questions that encourage people to share their stories. When your employees or team members tell their stories, both personal and work related ones, you will be creating positive experiences and shared memories to build relationships necessary for working together successfully.

You learn new things. You can learn personal information about others, things you would not know if you did not ask. You can also learn helpful facts or a new way of looking at things. You may learn both the answer to the question you are asking and answers to questions you might not have thought to ask.

People feel valued. I know this because I feel valued when people ask me questions that show genuine interest in who I am and What I think. If you ask thoughtfully considered questions — and then listen carefully as people answer — you let people know that they are important to you. This works in face to face interactions, over the phone, and in social media networks such as Twitter.

You gain respect. Think about this: how do you feel about the person who only talks about himself and doesn’t seem interested in what anyone else is saying? (For the record, I didn’t spend time with anyone like that at my reunion.) You want to get away as soon as possible, right? But sitting at a table with someone who is sincerely interested in drawing others out and creating interesting conversation is a completely enjoyable experience.In the workplace, people who ask questions and listen to others exude likeability; everyone is glad to be around them.

high view of room
Photo by Chris Hancock

Remember the lesson of the high school reunion whenever you are looking for ways to build stronger relationships. Ask good questions. When you do, everyone has a good time.

For more leadership lessons gleaned from a high school reunion, check out Brett Simmons’ post with his reflections from his reunion.

I am also excited to share some of my writing regarding home education with you. I have a story published in Chicago Parent’s new issue. You can read the online version here.

This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.