I’ve been using a Socratic approach to promote critical thinking, but it appears to promote good leadership habits as well.

The socratic instructional approach leans into questions over lectures. Any student questions are answered with more questions. The goal is to create a dialog that encourages a student’s own discovery process. Students learn to ask and examine their own questions rather than wait for answers to be provided.

In short, a socratic approach is about defaulting toward questions.

Dare to Lead is a fantastic book about how to lead in an emotionally intelligent way. Instead of leading with authority or control, the book teaches research-backed ways to build trust and empowerment.

Dare to Lead highlights several leadership skills that I think overlap with the socratic approach.

  • Learner over a Knower. In essence, being curious over rushing to provide an answer.
    • Being able to sit in the discomfort of unknowns and understand a problem well rather than rush into solutions
    • Bias toward circling back later and taking time to think rather than pushing through
  • Perspective checking. We can’t truly put aside our own perspective and take up another’s view. But, we can consider each perspective to be valuable and be curious about them.
  • Checking the stories we tell ourselves. Recognizing when our brain is trying to explain our circumstances by inferring a negative story, then checking those assumptions.
  • Checking shared understanding. We naturally bias to assuming others share our perspective and that we understood information the same way, but it’s rarely true. Seek ways to regularly check for shared understanding.
  • Clear is kind

All of these skills require curiosity and listening to others, and the socratic method is a simple approach facilitating just that. Biasing to questions also biases us to curiosity and listening.

I think we all have a desired to feel heard, and this can cause us to rush into giving more thoughts than we consider. This creates an unstable equilibrium. If all participants want to be heard before listening, then no one gets listened to and shared understanding is unlikely. If we bias to questions, then at least one party in the discussion is being heard and a shared understanding (thus better outcomes) is more likely. Further, feeling heard increases the chance that others will reciprocate and consider other ideas too.

One could say that a leader’s job is not to be heard, but to help others feel heard. Similarly, not to be valued but to help others feel valued.

In summary, the socratic method is not just for teaching critical thinking. I think the socratic method is a simple approach for biasing to curiosity and listening. By extension, it promotes understanding those around us and caring for them effectively.