Van Quaquebeke, Niels and Will Felps

Respectful inquiry: A motivational account of leading through asking questions and listening

Academy of Management Review, 43 (1): 27-5, (2018).

Copy reference link   DOI: 10.5465/amr.2014.0537

Abstract: Practitioners repeatedly note that the everyday behavior of asking followers open questions and attentively listening to their responses is a powerful leadership technique. Yet, despite such popularity, these practices are currently under-theorized. Addressing this gap, we formally define the behavioral configuration of asking open questions combined with attentive listening as “Respectful Inquiry”, and then draw on Self-Determination Theory to provide a motivational account of its antecedents, consequences, and moderators within a leader-follower relationship. Specifically, we argue that Respectful Inquiry principally satisfies followers' basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Against this background, we highlight ironic contexts where Respectful Inquiry is likely to be especially rare, but would also be especially valuable. These ironic contexts include situations where interpersonal power difference, time pressure, physical distance, cognitive load, follower dissatisfaction, or organizational control focus are high. We additionally outline how the effect of Respectful Inquiry behaviors critically hinges upon the interaction history a follower has with a leader. More generally, we make the suggestion that the leadership field would benefit from complementing its traditional focus on “gestalt” leadership styles with research on concrete and narrow communicative behaviors, such as Respectful Inquiry.

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