The Need For Powerful Questions
Posted on October 25, 2018
by Bob Miller
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When Ray Krock asked the question, “How do you make a great hamburger in such a short time?” the idea of fast-food restaurants and McDonalds was born.
Einstein once commented: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
The great Greek teacher, Socrates, taught by asking questions.
The fist century disciple, James reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5, NLT)
The need for a quick solution can prevent leaders from asking powerful questions. What if questions are more powerful than statements?
Often innovation is a substitute for inquiry. We can come up with a lot of great ideas . . . but, what questions do they answer? Scott Anthony writes, “It’s natural for people pursuing innovation to jump into idea-generation mode. After all, when you generate ideas you feel like you’re making progress.” (Harvard Business Review, 2011)
Jeff Boss, contributor to Forbes concludes, “Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas and ideas lead to innovation.” (Forbes.com, August 3, 2016)
Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Steven Krupp surmise, “Asking the right questions can help broaden perspective and contribute to smarter decision making. Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective.” (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2015)
Powerful questions can shift perspective. stimulate progress and signal permutation.
Dan Rockwell (LeadershipFreak.com) provides some insight into asking empowering questions . . .
Curiosity comes before solution and innovation.You know you’ve been asked a powerful question when it causes you to pause and wonder. Your eyes go to the ceiling. Your brain lights up.
Schoemaker and Krupp state, “We’ve found that leaders can learn to anticipate better by simply being more curious, looking for superior information, conducting smarter analyses and developing broader touch points with those in the know.”
“The best entrepreneurs excel at peeking around the corner and seeing the future sooner” (G.S. Day and P.J.H. Schoemaker, “Are You A ‘Vigilant Leader’?” MIT Sloan Management Review 49, no.3)
Uncover new insights.
The rehashing of old ideas produces stability at first and stagnation in the end. The right question can reveal something unknown. Ask, “And what else?” or “What questions should I be asking?”
In the Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he shares the example of a man entering the subway with his rowdy children. Nobody on the subway is bold enough to ask the man to quell his children’s’ behaviors until the author himself interjects and says, “Sir, your children are disturbing a lot of people. [Might you] … control them a little more?” The man, in somewhat of a daze, responds, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Powerful questions uncover new insights.
Explore vision and values.
One of the blinding effects of being too busy is losing sight of what matters. Many of us end the day, finish a task or complete a project and still wonder what has been accomplished. Ask these, “What makes this important to me?”, “Where will I be in a month if you continue on your current path?” or “How did I live out what is important to me, today?”
We often need to step out of our comfort zones to walk in conviction.
Anthony comments, ” Coming up with the right question isn’t easy. There may be an “a ha” moment in the shower, but many times the right question comes from conducting substantial market research, combing analogous industries for inspiration, holding structured discussions with experts, and having thoughtful discussions about a company’s real strategic constraints and objectives.” (Harvard Business Review, 2011)
Consider possibilities, not simply problems.
Getting lost in problems can be the quicksand of leadership. Yes, leaders help solve problems. But more importantly, leaders explore possibilities. Here are some clarifying considerations, “If I weren’t solving this problem, what opportunity would I seize?”, “If I didn’t have these problems to solve, what would I do?” and “What would a different CEO do to move this organization forward?”
Generate forward moving energy.
Boss writes, “Questions fall in between passion and purpose as they help you gauge two things. First, they help you modulate the amount of effort to put into harnessing your passion and pursuing your purpose. Second, questions help you redefine – when your mindset changes, so too does your behavior.”
Questions that generate positive energy include:
- What would you like to do about that?
- What do you really want?
- How can I help?
- What will be different if you succeed?
Former publishing executive, Michael Hyatt writes, ” There are constructive questions. They empower and create new possibilities. They lead to action. And they will produce results.” (michaelhyatt.com, January 18, 2012)
Begin with “What”, “How”, or “Who”.
Yes or no questions call for short responses. A “what” question cultivates a conversation.
Avoid questions that begin with:
- Wouldn’t you…?
- Are you…?
- Shouldn’t you…?
Instead . . .
- “What makes your job fulfilling?” is better than, “Do you like your job?”
- “When are you most energized?” is better than, “Are you energized?”
Hyatt writes, Here are four ways to ask better, more empowering questions:
- Become conscious of the questions you are asking yourself.
- Evaluate these questions: Is this a good question? If not, what’s a better one?
- Choose the better question. Be intentional.
- Write down the answers that your brain serves up. Act on these insights.
Asking powerful questions can change the way you think. Reachael Herrscher, CEO of TodaysMama.com comments, “Good information gives us great opportunity.” (“Why? Asking The Right Question”, June, 2011)
Adviser Andrew Sobel give five types of power questions:
- Focusing Questions. These are questions that clarify, identify and bring understanding.
- Passion Questions. Passion questions tap into the things that really matter to others. What’s important? What’s motivating?
- Empowering Questions. Questions that empower others encourage them to take charge.
- Aspiring Questions. These are questions that help uncover others’ aspirations, hopes, and dreams.
- Depth Questions. Depth questions are critical in two circumstances. First, when you are trying to get to know someone better; and second, when you would like to go further in depth into an issue or situation that the other person has raised with you.
Hyatt reminds us, ” If you want to change the results you are getting, you must change your thinking.”
What needs to change in your thinking . . . and, what questions need to be asked to start the process.
Take 55 minutes to ask the powerful questions and 5 minutes to find the perfect answer.