Posted in leadership

Leading with questions

LEADING WITH QUESTIONS: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask (QUESTIONS) is divided into three parts: The Power of Questions, Asking Questions Effectively, and A Guide for Leaders on Using Questions. The premise of this book is that questions engage people, “questions wake people up” (p. 2, ¶4), and questions cause people to discover new ideas. Based on the thesis that asking questions empower people to become better communicators and leaders, the book also introduces the reader to the Action Learning Model (pp. 175-186) and the Institute for Inquiring Leadership (pp. 186-190).

Major Concepts

Part One – Benefits of a Questioning Culture

In a fast-paced, results-oriented culture, the idea of slowing down to ask questions when deadlines are looming appears counter-intuitive. However, QUESTIONS posits that only by stopping to ask the questions, will leaders continue to innovate and develop their skills and their organizations.

  • “Yesterday’s solutions will not solve tomorrow’s problems” (p. 12, ¶2).
  • Groupthink defines flawed group dynamics that allows flawed ideas to go unchallenged (p. 13).

By posing the right questions, effective leaders serve as catalysts for change and empower people to change their futures (p. 35). Creating a questioning culture develops independence, self-esteem and self-confidence in the leader and his or her direct reports (p. 36).

Part Two – Asking Questions Effectively

            To be truly effective, leaders must be courageous enough to ask questions that others do not want to ask; to challenge the status quo and established patterns of past success to move toward uncertain future successes. “The interplay between our old answers and our new ones are the basis for our growth (p. 54, ¶1).  It requires self-discipline and courage to ask people what needs to be done than to simply tell them (p. 55).

Leaders must ask the correct questions to set the correct tone and use the correct words in the metaphors to define the attitudes and behaviors and structures and concepts (p. 63). Questions allow leaders to focus their and others’ attention to develop alignment and create optimum performance (p. 63). “Great questions are fresh questions raised in conditions of ignorance, risk, confusion, or when no one knows what to do next” (p.66, ¶1). Learning leaders are comfortable asking questions to which they do not know the answers (p. 79).

“Coaching is not bossing” (p.81, ¶1). Coaches are supportive – building trust and assisting direct reports to develop their strengths and uncover their bind spots (p. 81). Coaching questions should be asked in a positive way using appreciative inquiry – What went well? What could be done? How could it be improved? (p. 84).

Process: (pp.85-94).

  • Break the ice
  • Set the stage
  • Ask empowering, appreciative questions
    • You are engaging in a conversation not an interrogation
    • Do not rush answers to questions; take time to reflect on them
    • If you meet resistance, stay quiet to give the other person time to think
    • Once you ask your questions, listen.
      • Show interest in responses and always say thank you
      • Do not interrupt; listen to understand
  • Always follow up to share what you did with the information
  • Regularly ask, “Do our values support our questions?” “Have we been living our values?” (pp. 105, ¶1).

 Part Three – A Guide for Leaders on Using Questions

When establishing a coaching relationship with direct reports, be genuine, empathetic and positive (p. 117).  Leaders should meet regularly with their direct reports to ask,

  • “How are you planning to accomplish your objectives?” (p.124)
  • “How could you make your job more effective?” (p. 126)
  • “What suggestions do you have for me?” (p. 130)and
  • What could the group do better?” (p. 142).

Questions also assist leaders to help their direct reports overcome obstacles and manage conflict. Questions can be open-ended, clarifying, stimulating, probing, or summarizing (p. 149) Questions to determine vision, mission, values and goals should be

  • “What business are we in?” (Vision)
  • “What will the future look like if all things run as planned?”(Mission)
  • “What do we stand for?” (Values)
  • “What do we want the people to focus on now? (Goals) (p. 164).

Ask yourself questions silently to observe your own thinking

Before  you ask a question, ask yourself what do you want your question to      accomplish

Encourage your direct reports to ask you questions (p. 173).

I have often been a leader such as listed in the beginning of the book. I have been guilty of Ready! Fire! Aim! leadership. It IS easier to just tell your direct reports what you want and how to do it. However, to do so, diminishes everyone’s roles in the team dynamic. It is not easy to “grow a team” when its members are used to being micro-managed by previous supervisors and continually say just tell me what to do and I’ll do it However, to be a true leader,  I must go beyond what they want and give them what they need. They need a chance to grow, a chance to have increased authority, and a chance to fail in controlled settings. In order for them to do all these things, I will need to improve my questioning skills and learn Leading with Questions.

Reference: Marquardt, Michael. (2005). LEADING WITH QUESTIONS: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask. Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco, CA.


For a list of Sheila’s books, check out



Dr. Sheila Embry is a govie, author, pracademician, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend who loves to read, write, think, and laugh. Many of her blog postings are summaries or excerpts of books that she read and wants to share to encourage others. An author with more than 25 years experience within the legislative and executive branches of the U. S. federal government holding 3 accredited degrees: Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Master of Arts in Human Resources Development, and Baccalaureate of Business Administration, she believes in continuing learning both on and off the job. She has been recognized with multiple professional and writing awards for her peer-reviewed, publications. Click the bibliography page above for a listing of all the publications.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s