Speaking of Leadership Part Two – 5 Questions that Inspire

It is not the answer that enlightens but the question. ~ Eugene Ionesco

In observing my days I notice that almost every interaction with my team either presents or invites a question. Acts of creativity, problem solving, vision, strategy…almost everything we do in leadership is built on questions and the quality of our leadership may be bound to the process we employ to reach the answers.

As leaders our first temptation is to tell.

This temptation comes from old paradigms that leaders must know, (or at least pretend to know), the answers. Or perhaps from the fear that the person in front of us might not come up with the “right” answers if left to their own devices. You know, “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself”. Then there is the ever-present pressure to keep things moving. The thought might be that it’s easier to just tell them what to do and get it over with than spend time working through a series of questions or investing in dialogue. All of these “stories” we tell ourselves can result in behaviors that rob energy, creativity and motivation from your team and diminish your influence as a leader.

Questions are powerful tools in the hands of skillful leader.

Want better outcomes? Ask better questions. Not only the questions that help someone solve a problem but also questions that encourage others to engage and explore. It is very easy to drift into telling. Asking good questions requires that we are mindful and self-aware.

Here are five questions I have found useful when I want to invite others into the leadership process.

  • How can I help?
    This is not to diminish the individual’s ability or assume ownership of the topic but an offer to be a resource. In essence, the leader is shifting to the role of follower.
  • How do you see this?
    Considering asking people how they “see it” rather than what they “think” about a topic. Seeing invites perspective and creativity whereas “thinking” is a measure of intelligence or judgement.
  • What else is possible?
    Open the door to different points of view. Think about what is “possible” rather than what is “missing”. It’s easy for group think to lead to a quick diagnosis without considering other options.
  • When can we start?
    Sometimes people just need the invitation to go make it happen. Instead of giving them “permission” give them a challenge.
  • What did you learn?
    Too often the question is “what went wrong” which leads to deflecting instead of reflecting. And don’t forget to ask this question when the outcome is success. The opportunity is the same.

This is a very short list of questions and there are probably many more that can be put into practice to build our leadership effectiveness. So here is a question for you…

  • What questions would you add to this list?

Lets learn together.


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15 thoughts on “Speaking of Leadership Part Two – 5 Questions that Inspire

  1. puja says:

    The questions are great! I would also like to add that the leader needs to be aware of inductive and deductive reasoning to approach a concept or idea.
    He or she needs to learn and let others know the concept of mind rotation on a any problem or a concept. Mind rotation would something very close to have a 3D perspective concept in question.


  2. I love your insights into leadership and questions to ask- brilliant!

    I work with some managers (I hesitate to call them leaders) that rarely ask questions and are more inclined to tell. These managers are good enough at their jobs but I feel the employees and the organization could accomplish so much more taking a leadership approach and asking more questions. By empowering employees to consider their part in the organization and leaders really hearing their challenges, thoughts, and ideas.

    Although my role in my organization does not make me a leader in name, I can use these same questions to be a leader through example. I look forward to trying these questions with the leaders in my company!



    • scott_elumn8 says:

      Thanks Chrysta! Absolutely, good questions are a powerful communication resource. You don’t need a title to use them effectively to influence others and open up powerful dialogue. Thanks for stopping by and I would love to hear about your experience with these questions (and all the great questions shared in other great comments here).


  3. Good questions, Scott. I agree that asking questions create more openness and invitation to engage and participate. I like what you said about “seeing” vs. “thinking.” Questions I might add? To engage others in creative problem solving, “How would you approach this?” To encourage others to think through what they’re asking, “Can you help me understand your ask?” To help others prioritize, “What are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves?” I can go on and on… since you asked the question. :-)


    • scott_elumn8 says:

      Thanks Alice. I didn’t include it in the list but “will you help me understand?” is one of my often used questions. I think you have to be careful how it’s delivered. I’ve seen leaders use a tone that says “I don’t get it.” rather then “I’m really interested in understanding this”. I’m sure you do have many more but thanks for adding this great question to the discussion. :)


  4. […] Speaking Of Leadership Part Two – 5 Questions That Inspire Written by: Scott Mabry […]


  5. mikelehroza says:

    You’re definitely on the right track here, Scott. Thank you for these questions. Here’s my contribution: Will you help me? It’s the question form of your phrase in your first post, “I need you.” It fits your objectives with this post in two ways.

    First, the question respects that the person has an option. One time I asked an employee to help me by completing a checklist for each job. He chuckled, strangely looked at me and said, “You’re the boss. I have to do it.” I said, “Not really, sure you can complete the checklist saying you did each task, but I really need your help in doing these tasks well. I would like your help in ensuring that you only complete each task after you did it well, not after you ‘just did it.'” We often forget the difference between a compliant performance and an inspired one, What we’re trying to achieve is the latter, not the minimum acceptable.

    Second, the question also gives the person power, the power to help us. Very subtly, we are saying he has power which – as with your phrase – is also saying he has value. It’s also reminding them that we realize success is mutual; we can’t be successful as leaders without them. People love to be able to say they helped their bosses, their managers. By asking and giving people opportunities to help us, we help them see their value.

    Again, thank you for writing this Scott.



  6. Scott, I like to ask, What’s another way of looking at this? It helps to encourage a new perspective.


    • scott_elumn8 says:

      Thanks Dan – yes that is in line with my comment about “see” versus think “think”. It gives me the visual of looking at a piece of art and knowing there are many potential interpretations of what it means.


  7. Seriously good ideas in here – and I love the way the questions that are shared above open up new possibilities – rather than making the person account for having an answer to the question – it’s exploratory and playful – yet directed -


    • scott_elumn8 says:

      Hi Dionne ~ Appreciate the kind comments…it’s probably the school teacher in me but I love turning work into a shared learning experience. Questions can widen or narrow your choices. The key is to begin with the end in mind. :)


  8. allipolin says:

    Great questions, Scott! I particularly like how you’ve slightly shifted “what do you think” to “how do you see this.” You’re right, it focuses on perspective and not right and wrong ways to think with fear of judgement around the corner.

    I’ve also asked “what else is true?” My team would come to me with a long list of problems and roadblocks but they also needed to see strengths and opportunities. This question always took people in a new direction with their thinking and frequently action too.


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