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Socratic Leadership

Leads to a deep understanding of the issue by all participants. Contributes to effectiveness in an organization that deals with complexity.

If everyones feels that their contributions were fairly considered it creates a strong feeling of investment in a final consensus. Other are willing to go along because resolution was reached through a fair and logical process.

A socratic leader

The primary obligation for effective leaders is to helping grow and develop skills of the people around so that they realize their full potential.

Teaching the team how to find answers for themselves.

Lead discussions during which they make sure that everyone gets the chance to be heard.

Casts themself as a fellow learner and asks questions and engages in discussion. 2 Needs to understand the subject matter to be able to ask deep questions and follow up questions.

If an arbitration is needed, the leader should decide and bear accountability for the outcome.

Pull ideas out of the group by asking questions of everyone and enabling different forms of participation either verbally or written. This empowers people with a disadvantage, e.g due to language, having a soft voice, or being reserved in nature. 3

Use socratic inquiry: Ask them to list current challenges and challenge to explain the reasons. For flow of work that can be done in form of a value stream analysis.

Watch out for

Problem with the need for thinking spontanuously.

So when discussing complex issues this needs to be combined with offline processing and sharing thoughts in a follow up meeting.

Needs to watch for those who stay silent and should proactively ask them for their opinion.

What is the Socratic process?

In front of a blackboard and ringleading the discussion with engagement. Absorbed ideas, refinded them and then wrote them on the board.

Understanding is the goal. With having honest and thoughtful discussions.

Socratic questioning

Based on disciplined, thoughtful dialog. To examine ideas logically and determine validity.

To promote independent thinking. To weed out the good options from the bad.

Show enthusiasm and let’s one experience the groups reality - their inspirations, interests, difficulties, goals.

Types of Socratic questions

(Why questions are interpreted as a threat. And we leave critical thinking when we feel attacked.)

Clarification questions

  • What do you mean by?
  • Could you put that another way?
  • What do you think is the main issue?
  • Can you give an example?

Questions about an initial question or issue

  • Why is this question important?
  • Does this question lead to other important issues and questions?

Probing Assumption questions

  • Why would someone make this assumption?
  • What is person assuming?
  • Do I understand you correctly? (to bring in own assumptions)

Reason and evidence questions

  • What would be an example?
  • Why do you think this is true? What led you to that belief?
  • What other information do we need? Have?
  • Could you explain your reason?
  • Is there a reason to doubt that evidence?

Origin and source questions

  • Where does that idea come from?
  • What influenced your opinion?
  • What caused you feel that way?

Implication and consequence questions

  • What effect would that have?
  • Could that happen?
  • What is an alternative?
  • What are you implying by that?
  • What else would happen as a result?

Viewpoint questions

  • How would others respond?
  • How would you answer the objection that person/group would make?
  • What would someone who believed other belief think?
  • What is an alternative?
  • How are others ideas alike? Different?

Source Wikipedia Source with examples from Intel ChangeMinds

4 Steps

Get to the Root

What is the real difficulty here for you? 5

What is is standing between them and their desired outcome.

Asking that also avoids to solve the wrong problem by just providing an own answer.

Find Options

What are the options? And help with providing some options. Not just one. By providing several options the heavy lifting to explore and evalute options still is on the learner.

Educate about options

In the past, I’ve experienced this … Provide insights in what has and hasn’t worked.

Use a share-and-question approach.

Still connected with a learning teaser, like: I tried xyz and had mixed results because of … What do you suppose lead to that outcome?

The share-and-question approach supports supports critical evaluation.

Give a Recommendation, but let Them choose

I would probably try … but you’re free to pursue the option that makes the most sense to you

This supports building trust. And effective leadership boils down to trust

Important skills

Socratic discovery, courtesy - letting others finishing and not interrupting and speaking with brevity. 6


  • Plan for significant questions that provide meaning and direction
  • Use wait time - allow enough time to respond
  • Follow up on responses
  • Ask probing(?) questions (to let other discover knowledge on their own)
  • periodically summarise by writing key points that have been discussed. (capture in between and enable connecting to these thoughts)
  • Draw as many as possible into the discussion


  • might connect well with product discovery and finding assumption tests


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