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Effective Questions Make Effective Leaders

Effective Questions Make Effective Leaders

"Great leaders constantly ask questions and are well aware that they do not have all the answers."

By Mary Verstraete

Improve the way you frame questions," says Dorothy Leeds, a renowned expert on using artfully-designed questions as a management tool, "and you’re on the road to gaining trust, making meetings more productive, becoming a good listener and easing the path to change.”  Smart Questions: The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers 

The facts are:

1.     Ask a question and you’ll get an answer.

  • Human nature is built to respond to questions. The quality of answers depends on the way you ask the questions.

2.     Effective questions evoke discovery, clarity, and insight.

  • If a question is judgmental, the respondents will adopt a defensive posture and a guarded reply.

3.     An effective question stimulates thinking.

  • Encourages a person's development as a thinker and problem solver, thereby delivering both short-term and long-term value: the short-term value of generating a solution to the issue at hand and the long-term value of giving subordinates the tools to handle similar issues in the future independently.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” If you keep asking questions you can keep finding better answers.

Let’s begin by looking at the characteristics of effective framed questions.

  • Help people tell their “problem story” in a way that reframes the problem as being solvable
  • Promote a collaborative relationship to solve the problem
  • Help identify and construct possible solutions
  • Delineate a range of options
  • Facilitate the development and enactment of action plans

Next, three basic guiding principles for asking effective questions.

First, care about the person. Offer a safe and supportive environment for the person to tell their “problem story.”

Second, care about the problem. Approach the conversation with an attitude of serving the person’s agenda and investing your personal best.

Third, care about the relationship. Recognize that people thrive and grow in a supportive, encouraging, and trusting relationship.

Finally, ensure that you ask questions to give the person an opportunity to collaborate with you for the solution.

  • Could you say more about . . .?
  • You mentioned that . . . I would like to hear more.
  • Could you explain further?
  • What makes this important to you?
  • What are your main concerns?
  • How might we mitigate those concerns?
  • How can we ensure that those concerns don’t become reality?
  • What would be the ideal outcome?
  • What other options do you think we have?
  • How can I best support you?
  • How could we best work together collaboratively?
  • Let’s keep talking as we continue to move down the path of a solution.

These questions are foundational to effective collaborative conversations and rarely fail to move a situation toward a solution. 

What questions will help you to be a more effective leader?

Mary is president and co-founder of the Center for Coaching Excellence where she writes, trains, and consults on effective and masterful leadership conversations.