Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Great Questions

Great Results Begin With Great Questions ~ Joseph S Edwards

Do good managers do the work for their staff ? Or do they lead them to creatively think through the dilemma  so they can develop the right skills to problem solve going forward?

On Courage and Questions

In past posts I have talked about managerial courage , learning agility and now the 3rd part of this winning formula is the ability to ask good questions to get great results.

There are many reasons why people don’t want to ask questions.

  • The fear of looking foolish.
  • The fear of the manager thinking less of him or her.
  • Not willing to work through the tough stuff.
  • Lazy
  • They are particularly good at getting their manager to do their job.
  • And sometimes, they need a thinking partner to help them see the issue another way. They get stuck in their thinking and they need a fresh perspective.

What do you normally do when a  staff member or colleague comes to you and says “I don’t know how to do this. I need your help“.

  • What are they really asking?
  • How do you know what kind of effort or thinking they have used to get to this point?
  • Are they just wanting you to do their work?
  • Are they afraid of failing?
  • Is it dangerous for your staff to make mistakes?

Asking Good Questions

These are a number of questions that will help in your assessment of how you will answer the question posed. The results of each question will decide how you will approach the staff member in response to their question.

Regardless of the reason for the question, it always a good time to start asking good questions.

There are 2 different ways you can ask questions and they have completely different results. I will give you some quick tips to stay away from  the kind of questions that brings pessimism, stress, anger and resentment and how to pose questions that will lead to problem solving, learning, optimism and collaboration.

Limiting Your Problems:

1. Never start a question with “Why” This has a very strong overtone of judgment and you will find your staff member will start justifying their action rather than thinking through the process. Alternatives are “Can you tell me your thought process in this situation?”

2. Keep blame out of your question ie. “Who’s fault is this?”

Maximizing Your Results

An alternative is asking questions like these:

  • “What are the facts as we know them?
  • What is missing?
  • What are our next steps and who should be doing them?”

These are action questions that will encourage your staff member to look for remedies and not the CYA (Cover Your Behind) behaviour that is a giant waste of time.

Handling Feelings

I am not suggesting there are not times when a staff member will do things that defies logic and makes you feel crazy, however allowing those feelings to surface at that time does not benefit anyone.

During these times it is best to give yourself a necessary break and tell the staff member to come to your office in 20 minutes to discuss next steps. This will give you a cooling down time and allow you to plan your questions to hold the staff accountable in a way that is productive.

If you teach your staff how to ask good questions through modeling your behaviour, you will find their  problem solving capabilities will soar. Is this something you would like to see happen? Once these skills have been integrated into your culture the impact is phenomenal. Can you imagine a time when your staff will be able to lead each other through this process, which frees up your time significantly.

Judy Mackenzie is Principal at TEVO Consulting Inc.
She helps with transformational change through leadership and team coaching
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. DIANE on July 13, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Very good article.Thank you.

  2. Ayesha Habeeb Omer, Ph.D on July 13, 2011 at 12:16 am

    5 Problem Solving Questions
    Questions 1: What’s great about this situation? Or What could be great about this?
    Questions 2: What’s not perfect Yet? It presupposes that it will be perfect.
    Questions 3: What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
    Questions 4: What am I will to No Longer Do in order to have things the way I want it?
    Questions 5:How can I do what is necessary to get the job done and enjoy the process?

  3. […] Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions? « Linked 2 Leadership In past posts I have talked about managerial courage , learning agility and now the 3rd part of this winning formula is the ability to ask good questions to get great results. There are many reasons why people don’t want to ask questions. On Courage and Questions The fear of looking foolish. […]