The Question I Never Asked But Should Have

A coaching client has been learning to ask quality questions. She shared one with me that blew me away. She asked a manager, “What questions are you asking your team?” The manager said, “I’m not asking questions. I’m telling them what I want.”

Four exceptional leadership questions:

  1. What questions are you asking your team?
  2. What questions should I ask?
  3. What questions best match this situation?
  4. What else should I ask?

Let’s take curiosity to the expert level.

First answers and second questions:

The difference between discussion and action is a second forward-facing question.

First answers feel right, but second questions burst the bubble of perceived knowledge.

First questions are dangerous because first answers give the illusion that you know something when you don’t. First answers are based on available knowledge, current assumptions, and limited experience. You haven’t begun to explore an issue in new ways until eyes go to the ceiling and people say, “I don’t know.”

Examples of second questions:

  1. What questions are you asking your team? What new questions seem most relevant for your team to answer right now?
  2. What story do we want our customers telling about their experience with us? What’s essential to those experiences?
  3. Where are the pockets of energy on our team? How might we pour gas on those pockets of energy? (Don’t let squeaky wheels distract you from opportunities.)
  4. What decisions are you making that others can make? How might you begin transitioning decision-making authority today?

Thoughts shift from exploring ideas to defending them when curiosity ends. Successfully defending an idea in most organizations is about power and authority, not brains or creativity. Keep curiosity alive by asking second and third questions.

Elevate your curiosity by a factor of three.

What useful questions do you enjoy asking?

What second questions might move teams from discussion to action?