20 Effective Leadership Questions: the Power to Motivate and Inspire
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20 Effective leadership questions: the power to motivate and inspire

The ability to ask good questions is a vital leadership skill - not just because good questions elicit valuable new information, but because of the positive effect that good questions can have on those who are answering them.

By Martin Cole

Aberlady - effective leadership questions

Effective leadership questions are at the heart of leadership.

Great leaders ask positive questions that are genuinely about the subject under discussion or the person concerned.

Effective leadership questions can generate confidence, loyalty, motivation and development. These kinds of question:

  • arise from genuine curiosity
  • enable a staff member to show what they know or what they can do
  • demonstrate trust
  • are coaching questions
  • are collaborative
  • are generative – i.e they contribute to a joint effort to create a solution
  • build relationships
  • inspire action.

20 of the most effective leadership questions

How good any question is really depends upon the context.

But here are some examples of leadership questions that, in the right context, are likely to be genuinely effective:

  1. “How are you enjoying working on project x?”
  2. “What are you looking to achieve in the next part of your career and how can I help you?”
  3. “What do you think our next steps should be here?”
  4. “Why don’t you come back to me with your thoughts when you’ve had a chance to test some solutions?”
  5. “What do you need in order to make progress?”
  6. “What can I do to help you with this?”
  7. “How do you think I should handle this?”
  8. “What would you do in my position?”
  9. “What do I need to know?”
  10. “What else do we need to know?”
  11. “Are we missing something here?”
  12. “What assumptions are we making and how might they be wrong?”
  13. “What are some options you’d like to try?”
  14. “What is really worrying you about this?”
  15. “How can we use this as an opportunity?”
  16. “Which of your strengths do you think are relevant here?”
  17. “What barriers do we need to remove?”
  18. “How can we best achieve this?”
  19. “What would be your preferred solution?”
  20. “What can we both learn from this?”

Poor leadership questions

Poor leaders ask questions that are mainly about themselves. Poor leadership questions:

  • are statements dressed up as questions
  • emphasise power differentials
  • probe for weaknesses in the individual’s skills or knowledge
  • are designed to elicit the answer the leader wants
  • are closed and contain assumptions that lead to a predetermined answer
  • fail to acknowledge complexity and ambiguity
  • are demotivating and undermine confidence
  • Focus on irrelevant weaknesses

10 of the least effective leadership questions

Example of ineffective leadership questions are:

  1. “Why did you let that happen?”
  2. “Why didn’t you do x or y?”
  3. “What on earth were you thinking?”
  4. “Why couldn’t you see that this would happen?”
  5. “Why don’t we do it this way then?”
  6. “Isn’t this something you should have known how to do?”
  7. “Why should I listen to you?”
  8. “But why didn’t you do [what I would have done]?”
  9. “I know that you delivered on time and budget, but why did you allow Steve to take leave when he did?”
  10. “Did you not know what I would have wanted?”

Conclusion

You’ll no doubt have had the experience of being on the end of both ineffective and effective leadership questions of the kind mentioned in this post. I know I have.

But I only have to think of my immediate emotional reaction to poor questioning – dismay, lost confidence, demotivation – to remind me of the need to make sure that my own questions prompt the right kinds of response.

About the Author

I'm Martin Cole. I am a UK qualified lawyer, a leader within the financial services regulatory and compliance sector and an organisational and executive coach. I have an Master of Science (M.Sc). in coaching psychology and am certified as a coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership. I also have a Bachelor of Laws (LLB (Hons.)) and was admitted as a barrister by the Inner Temple (now non-practising). I have lived and worked in London and Sydney and now live near Edinburgh in Scotland with my wife and two daughters. I support Crystal Palace FC, have wide ranging musical tastes (especially Jazz, Blues and Soul) and oppose mediocrity, selfishness and organisations that fail to value their people.

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