Getting the Questions Right

This post, from September, 2011 examines the power of questioning as an effective leadership tool.


My brain is all clogged up.  I’m trying to write a blog post and it’s coming out like the Sermon on the Mount. I hate when that happens.  Sermons have their place but am not ordained to deliver them.  Besides, to me, one well-placed question is worth a hundred sermons.  In fact, one well-place question can be just the lubricant a clogged brain needs for the wheels to get going again.

So maybe I’m onto something here.  Maybe it is that leaders who feel they must have all the answers would be better off if they focused on the getting the questions right instead.

What are the right questions?  Well, that’s a good question in itself isn’t it?

I’m thinking that the right questions are those that do two powerful things:

They stimulate curiosity and exploration ~ Not all questions are going to do that.  Some simply call for answers that are already known by someone.  The really good questions are those that have everyone scratching their heads, thinking about possibilities and going into explore mode.

They get to the heart of the matter ~ I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in meetings where people get royally bogged down in discussions that go absolutely nowhere.  Sometimes, in those situations one simple question can turn the tide, stop the noise and bring about an “oh, yeah” moment that puts the meeting back into production.

What does it take to get good at getting the questions right?  Here’s what I think:

We have to be interested in what is being said.  That’s kind of an obvious one; otherwise, what’s the point?

We have to learn to suspend judgment, be willing to listen more and talk less.

We have to practice.   Asking a powerful question is an art.  Like any other art it takes work.  We’re not always going to get it right so practice, (while not always making perfect), will certainly move us closer to the highly competent arena.

Finally, what are these questions?  Well, let’s start with what they aren’t

They aren’t complex.  Sometimes we can get all bound up in making our questions sound authoritative, profound or deeply intellectual.  In my experience, a question like this usually comes out like, blah, blah, blah with a question mark at the end of it. If no one understands the question, it’s not likely that people will find it appropriately stimulating.

They aren’t necessarily perfect ~ If a question comes from a place of curiosity, even if it is only partially formed, it can spark conversation and get juices flowing enough for others to complete it and move on to explore something that they may not have otherwise considered.

So, just to get you started, here are some sample questions that I think are pretty powerful:

How will we know when we have it right?

What are we not saying? (Aka the elephant in the room question)

Who must we involve?

What is more important?

What do we really want?

What are we really saying?

What would happen if we did X instead of Y?

These are just a few questions.  And yes, they are the kind that coaches ask of their clients.  If you are a leader, you are also a coach.  Trust me, you are.  And if you don’t think so, think again.

So now I’m curious.  When people are stuck how do you help them to move on? What questions do you use to get the conversation going?  Do you have a favourite question? What is it? What does it do?



Filed under communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Getting the Questions Right

  1. sparktheaction

    Gwyn, great post (from someone who can get a little ‘preachy’ too) 🙂 Thanks for asking great questions!

    Best regards,

  2. David


    Love your post.

    It’s like Carl Sagan once said: We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.

    But as someone once said in a meeting. I attended …………….don’t forget – – you might want to judge someone by his questions instead of his answers.

    Your essays are absolutely The Best.

    Warmest Regards,


  3. Pingback: Five Blogs – 4 November 2013 | 5blogs

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