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Why do you ask?

The use of questions as a leadership tool, has gained popularity in recent years. Note that it’s also important to think about why you are asking. Some questions move the group forward and other questions drive the group further into useless discussion. Let’s take a look at which questions are useful and which ones are not.

Curiosity questions. Curiosity questions are perhaps the most popular type of questions. They are driven purely from the curiosity of the person asking, but may have no positive impact on the group. When the answer to your question won’t affect the direction of the group, it’s probably a curiosity question. If you are dying to know the answer, ask it offline or over coffee.

This same rule applies when it comes to sharing information that may be interesting, but is not useful.

Key Informational Questions. Some questions are straight up questions. We need some information in order to make a decision. “What have our sales been in the millennial market vs baby boomers?” You might ask that question in order to determine how to spend your marketing dollars. Simple. Straight. Direct questions.

Questions you already know the answer to. I call these Columbo questions, after the TV show detective who asked the clincher question when he had solved the mystery. Leaders are often advised to only ask questions that you know the answer to. While this is a great technique for some situations, it can feel condescending at best, and at worst it can feel like you’re being grilled.

I had an Aha! moment while cross-examining someone in a meeting. The crowd was cheering me on, they called me Columbo, they loved the trap I was setting and they were on the edge of their seats for the zinger they knew I was about to deliver. But then I looked in the eyes of the villian (who happened to be a friend of mine), and realized that this didn’t feel good for him. There has to be a better way.

Powerful questions. Powerful questions are designed to unlock a team or individual’s power. These questions spark different perspectives and new ways of thinking. Powerful questions are a great tool when a team is stuck in old constraints.

“What would the exact opposite look like?” “If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?” Or as the founders of HP asked each other “if they fired us tomorrow, what would our replacements do?”

What other types of questions have you used? Let us know!

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