"A single question can be more influential than a thousand statements." ~Bo Bennett
"Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." ~Tony Robbins
The questions we ask ourselves and the answers we come up with shape our future. When we look back on this process we tend to focus more on the answers, and less on the questions. After all, the answer is where we made the choice between alternatives and that choice, good or bad, had its effect on us. But there are no answers without questions, and we all have far more flexibility in the quality of the questions than we believe. Great leaders realize that they have choices, not just with the answers they come up with, but with the questions themselves.
One of the reasons that great leaders are great is that they choose the right questions to ask, and the frequency with which they ask these questions. This practice forces them into coming up with the right answers, at the right time. So what questions are great leaders asking themselves?
1. What is everybody thinking, but nobody has the courage to say? The proverbial “elephant in the room” can be a barrier that halts communication and progress until it is removed.
2. What do you need from me in order to help you reach your full potential? Great leaders serve their team by providing the right tools to do their job and developing team members into the leaders of the future.
3. How can I learn from this? A question to be asked during a struggle or a success so that you can develop your own leadership.
4. If we weren’t going to behave, what would we do? Some rules are outdated and need to be cast aside. Some systems and processes are the same. Often they are just waiting for the right reason to be changed, and this question can inspire that reason.
5. What skills will my team need in 6 months to a year? Continuous development of the team to meet the goals of the organization helps ensure the success of those goals.
6. Is this the best use of my time? Priorities are at the heart of time management and productivity.
7. What if it was an AND, and not an OR? Too many times we are making choices when we don’t need to and slowing down the progress that we could achieve.
8. Have I publicly acknowledged and recognized a team member’s success today? As Tom Peters says, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Your team member’s individual success leads to your success as a leader.
9. What can we do better? A leader’s job is to improve things, not maintain the status quo. And there is always something that can be done better.
10. If someone was going to come along and put us out of business, what would he or she do? Organizations are often most vulnerable when they are at the height of their success. Always be looking to the next thing, because someone out there is as well.
11. How is the energy level on the team, myself included? Passion fuels great effort, and a by-product of passion is energy. Keep a pulse of the energy and you’ll see when you need to re-ignite everyone’s passion.
12. Am I being patient or indecisive? There’s a difference, and it’s easy for a leader to slip into the wrong one.
13. What if we did the opposite? A great question to ask to open up brainstorming and innovative ideas.
14. What do you think about _________? Great leaders ask this question constantly with team members, peers, customers, and their boss. This question empowers and values others and ensures you have as much information as possible to make the right decision.
15. Are we having fun? People can’t be at their best if they aren’t enjoying the challenge. Sometimes you will need to lighten the mood, and sometimes you just need a better challenge.
16. What are the three things that are holding us back right now? Address them and your progress will naturally speed up.
17. How can I help you? Great leaders serve…EVERYONE!
18. If there were zero chance of failure, what would we do? The classic brainstorming question, but one that great leaders ask in all situations to focus on making the most progress possible and getting the best out of their team.
19. If we could start over with a blank slate, what would we do differently? “Sacred cows” are those things in organizations that everyone understands can’t be changed (systems, locations, personnel, products, etc.). The thing is that they can all be changed if the reason to do so is strong enough. Don’t constrain your thinking too early, you can always reign it in later.
20. Why? When you don’t know what to ask, this is always a great choice. There is also a classic leadership maxim that if you are presented with a problem and ask “Why” through five layers of depth you will always come up with the answer.
Based on this list you might think that great leaders spend their whole day asking themselves questions. And you know what? You’d be right.