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The Power of Questions | Future Leaders Blog

Last week we talked about really good leaders and explored what makes them great.

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We have found that great leaders share these three important characteristics:

  • They are interested in other people
    • They are good at listening
    • They know that they don’t know everything!

When you add all of that up, you could say that great leaders artfully ask really smart questions – they don’t give the answers.

They realise that the art of asking questions is crucial when it comes to creating engaged team members. Think about it: when someone asks you a question, and is being genuinely interested and listening – how great does that feel! It makes you feel seen and heard and important, it makes you want to get involved. It also makes you learn, it gets you to think of the answer and therefore you learn from it.

A leader definitely doesn’t need to have all the answers, she/he just needs to have really smart questions! In fact, it can be easy to just give an answer. It is more challenging (but also more rewarding) to think of a smart question that allows the other person to think about the answer and for the leader to think about how the answer will get the person thinking differently.

Let’s look at an example:

I recently worked with a leader who was talking to me about how much time they spend thinking about the future. Instead of giving them the answer on how to work out their time to allow for more of this (which is an answer), I asked them “As the leader of this team that you are responsible for, how much time do you think you should be spending thinking about the future and the longer term? And how could you make that happen?”
They stopped and reflected and came up with the answer for themselves, which means they are now going to put it into action. I gave them a question, not the answer.

So if you want to become an expert at asking questions, to connect with people, to learn and to create better answers, here are some of our top tips to consider.

 TIP 1
What is the purpose of the questioning? What do you want to achieve? This is important so that you can target your questions at that purpose.

 TIP 2
Consider whether you should be using open or closed questions. Open questions gather more information, but there are times when a quick yes or now is all you need or have time for – and then a closed question is the best option.

 TIP 3
Use softening phrases. Too many questions can sound like an interrogation ☺ so think about how you can best frame the question to make it interesting for the other person to answer it. Here are some examples of softening phrases:

  • Tell me more about ….
  • I’m curious…
  • I’m really interested in your thoughts on….

Ask the question (with softening phrases if relevant). Here are a few examples of great open questions:

  • What do you think we should do next? What would you recommend?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?
  • Where could we find that information, do you think?

And this is possibly the most important thing – LISTEN. Don’t think about how you will respond to what the other person is saying. Just listen. It’s amazing to see what happens when we fully listen to other people.


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply.
They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.”
Stephen Covey

 TIP 6
Thank them. Whomever you’ve talked to, whatever the subject was – thank them. Make sure they know that you listened and really appreciate their input.

 TIP 7
Think about how to make the most of the insight you’ve had from talking to others. Consider the different views you’ve been privy to. Don’t forget to formally credit those that have given input, if relevant.

So think about it: who will you be meeting with today, tomorrow or next week? What questions can you prepare (in your head) to make that meeting interesting and rewarding for you both?


About the authors

Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, award-winning authors of ”The Team Formula”.

Their latest book, multi-award-winning ”Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions”, published by Financial Times International is a practical tool for building winning teams. You can download a free chapter of the book at www.leadingteamsbook.com

Praise for ”Leading Teams: ”Enjoyable to read. Simple to understand. Practical to implement. A must read for team members or leadersDebbie Fogel-Monnissen, Executive Vice President, International Markets Finance Officer, Mastercard, NY, USA

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