Exceptional Leaders Ask Exceptional Questions

by Andy Wood on June 12, 2008

in Exploring the Possibilities, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle

LeaderLast month Penelope Trunk, writer for the Boston Globe and the Brazen Careerest blog, wrote about her relationship with her favorite mentor, Chris Yeh.  It’s a great read (here) about the importance and cultivation of mentoring relationships.  When Penelope started her company, she asked Chris to be an advisor.  He agreed and told her the best way to use advisors:

  • Call at times you know are easy for them to talk, 

  • Keep them up to date, and 

  • Ask them what you should be asking them about.

Read that last one again.  Chris understands something about leadership, productivity, and guiding people toward personal and professional excellence:  Exceptional leaders aren’t the ones with all the right answers; they’re the ones who ask the right questions.

Want an interesting study?  Check out the lives of great leaders, past and present.  Find their guiding questions.  Go beyond what Churchill, Ghandi, Dr. King, Golda Meir, Jack Welch, Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Sanders, or General Patton said or did. (How’s that for an eclectic bunch?)  Look at the questions they asked.

For example, for me, the ultimate leader of all time is Jesus Christ.  At age 12, He was found in the temple, astonishing the experts of His day with the questions He was asking.  During the public ministry phase of His life, He asked questions like:

  • Whom do men say that I am?
  • Simon, son of John, do you love me?
  • Why you afraid, you men of little faith?
  • Do you believe I am able to do this?
  • Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” 
  • Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?
  • Do you want to be healed?
  • Are you also going to leave?

What should you be asking right now?  Asking yourself?  Asking your constituents?  Asking your prospects/leads?  Asking your leaders, teachers, or mentors?  Asking God?

Want a jump starter?  Here’s a list of 31 Quality Questions (take that, Baskin Robbins!).  Some have been around for a while; others came as my own answers to the “What should I be asking?” question.  Each has something to offer for self- or organizational leadership.  (Substitute “I” for “we” when needed).

1. What would we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?

2. How can we most elegantly express love?

3. What would a Lazy, Obsessive, Stupid, Egotistical, or Rebellious person (L.O.S.E.R.) do?

4. What would we do if we weren’t trying to avoid discomfort?

5. What would it look like to “launch out in the deep and let down your nets?”

6. What reasons can we give someone to hang in, move on, stand up, or turn abound?

7. How can we expand our knowledge, experience, or character?

8. Who can we learn from, grow by, or be stretched by today?

9. What is the next step to greatness?

10. What is the next right thing to do?

11. If this were my last day to live, what must be done before the sun goes down?

12. Who do we need to reach out to?

13. What matters most?

14. How can we add fun to someone else’s life?

15. How can we express respect to someone?

16. What could we give of value to someone?

17. What would Jesus do?

18. How can we do this better, faster, or more effectively?

19. How can we show what we are totally committed to today?

20. How can we be empowered through increased training or support from others?

21. What are our unnecessary limitations, and how can we overcome them?

22. How can we increase our group motivation?

23. What does authenticity look like in this context?

24. What does passion look like in this context?

25. What does excellence look like in this context?

26. What steps to we take to get from here to where we want to be?

27. What can we learn to make us more effective?

28. How can we succeed by helping someone else succeed?

29. How can we create an expression of beauty?

30. Who can we join in a cause or an effort of significance?

31. How can we offer or ask for help from someone else?

There are plenty more quality questions out there.  I’d like to hear yours.  What should you be asking right now?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ivy June 13, 2008 at 7:31 am

A variation on WWJD–what DID Jesus do? An offshoot of that would be, is it compassionate? Is what I am planning to do incarnational? Of course, some of this depends on the context one is working in. I am thinking of church leadership. Peace, Andy.

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