For most of my career, I’ve been fascinated by the power of questions. So much so that I’ve spent decades trying to cultivate the skill of asking the right question at the right time.
Years ago, the president of our company stopped me in the hallway and asked a rather jarring question, “How do you add value around here?” I had no answer prepared. In the moment, I said the first thing that came to my mind, “I ask challenging questions.” He responded, “Keep it up” and walked off. Ever since that moment, I’ve considered it part of my job description as a leader – not just to ask challenging questions but also to ask the right questions.
The power of questions was underscored for me again a couple of years ago when Jim Collins addressed our Chick-fil-A Operators on the topic of being "a clock-builder vs. a time-teller.” One of his suggestions was “double your question to statement ratio over the next 12 months.” Jim gave me ANOTHER reason to ask more questions – it helps the people we lead grow – in the process, it also helps build the clock!
One of the things I’ve learned is that all questions are not created equally. Clearly, you use different type questions in different circumstances. With that disclaimer, here are some of the questions that I’ve found valuable over time…
In a perfect world, what would the ideal look like?
If we could do just one thing, what would we do?
How will we measure our progress?
What have others done successfully?
How can we break the issue/problem into smaller pieces?
What can we learn from the mistakes of others?
If we hired outside consultants to help us, what do we think they would do?
How can we depict the problem we’re trying to solve in a picture?
And finally, my favorite question – the one I ask most often (usually several times a day):
Exactly, what are we trying to accomplish?
This question works in meetings, one-on-one conversations, before writing an email or making a phone call. It’s a question you can ask yourself as often as you ask others. It amazes me time and time again how often there is not clarity or agreement on the answer to this question. The good news, once you have this answer, the next steps are often much clearer and more productive.
What are some of your favorite leadership questions?