Are The Questions You Ask Still Fit For Purpose

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“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” 
Tony Robbins 


When I first became a leader, I genuinely thought that no matter how small or big my team, I was supposed to have all the answers. 

When a volcano erupted creating an ash cloud that grounded flights, I was supposed to know which boats, trains, taxis and flights we could use to get trainers to weekend client events as well as bringing others home who had been away all week. 

When a website company asked me what we wanted from our new website, I was supposed to know. When our marketing partner asked how frequently did we want to do email marketing, I was supposed to know. 

Over time, I’ve discovered how wrong this way of thinking is. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers; in fact, what I have learnt is that team members, and the company as a whole, is far more successful when I am open about my lack of knowledge and look to colleagues, partners and clients to explore solutions.   

Today, I focus on being the person asking the majority of questions. To make sure I don’t keep asking similar questions, I also pay close attention to: 

  • The questions I am asked 
  • Questions I hear our training team and coaches ask clients and participants 
  • What questions I hear other leaders ask 

Thinking about the questions you ask as a leader, how relevant and fit for purpose are they?
If you find that you get stuck in a rut asking the same or similar questions, I think you’ll find this post useful as we share a variety of questions that you can use to reflect as a leader and with your team

1. A Leaders Self Reflection 

Life in most organisations is fast paced, and some days you may find yourself in back to back meetings with little time to pause in between, nevermind having time to reflect on the outcomes of meetings and what they mean for you and your team. 

When it comes to self-reflection, here are a few questions to assist you as you consider the difference you want to make. 

  • What might seem impossible that you now have to achieve? 
  • What is the legacy you want to leave? 
  • What kind of leadership is required of you to make a difference? 
  • What seems to be evading you that it’s now time to address? 
  • What do you want, and what do you expect? Notice the difference in your answer to the last question. 
  • Is this the best use of my time? 
  • Am I helping my team and others improve or holding them back? 

Now for a few to challenge you further when thinking about change, which for many people in organisations today is a constant. 

  • What would happen if you did make this change?
    I love this question as the focus is on what’s possible and how you will feel as a result.
  • What would happen if you didn’t make the change?
    Well the reality is that life will probably stay as it is and you will continue to face challenges
    that aren’t resolved and will limit progress.
  • What wouldn’t happen if you did make the change?
    Let’s say you decided to switch off that critical voice in your head. What wouldn’t happen is that you wouldn’t feel guilty leaving work at 5.30 pm to go and have tea with your family and take the kids swimming, or make that badminton match that could see your team go through to the county finals. Sounds good to me! How about this one. 
  • What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t make the change?
    Using the critical voice example, a typical answer might be:
    – You wouldn’t get to have a good time with your family or make your badminton match. 
    – You wouldn’t know what it would be like not to have the voice in your head telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.  

While these questions may seem a little usual, test them and see how they get you thinking. 

2. Practical Coaching Questions With A Difference  

If like me, you find yourself in a meeting listening to colleagues discussing how a project is progressing, you will often hear comments such as:

“They’re just not on it.
“It’s not going well.
“HR (or some department) is a block, and we are running out of time.
“They need to up their activity to hit the deadline.

Or similarly:

“They’re doing great, they should be pleased with their progress.
“Everyone’s pulling together, and it’s on track.

It would be easy to think all is well or it’s clearly not well, but you are left with very little detail 
about what’s not going so well and could a whole HR department really be blocking your project?

The fact is that in everyday life, we miss out vital pieces of information when we are communicating, and unless we ask questions to recover some of the missing details, it can easily lead to further complications. 

Here are some practical and straightforward questions that will help you get the clarity you need. 

When you hear words such as they, he, she, everyone, ask:
Who precisely are ‘they’? Or who specifically is ‘she’? 

When you hear words like should, must, need to, it implies that there is a consequence of not doing something. Ask: 
What would happen if you didn’t?

Of course, linked to these kinds of words are, shouldn’t, mustn’t, can’t and unable, which implies that there is some unwritten rule that a person isn’t to do something. In fact, there is no rule,
except one created unconsciously in the mind of the speaker. 

In these situations ask: What would happen if you did?

The outcome for using these types of questions is to recover the missing details that have been deleted or generalised and to move someone from a limiting way of thinking to an open, what’s possible perspective. As a result, you and your coachee will be more informed, and your coachee is in a more resourceful place to decide on what they action next.  

I know it’s an overused phrase and we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Great leaders don’t dominate conversations; they listen and ask questions to stimulate discussions and creativity. 

They continuously develop their questioning skills to inspire more in-depth insight and challenge team members and colleagues. 

How are you developing your questioning skills? What are some of the questions you have learnt from leaders who inspire you? Email me and let me know.  


Rachel Hewitt-Hall 

About Excel Communications   

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