The Idea: Einstein once quipped, “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 right question reframes topics, potentially impacting an organization’s vision or redirecting a leader who has lost his/her way. There is no perfect question, just the right question for the moment. Questions must be appropriate to the person and the timing must be spot-on.  

Did you ask the right question today?   

Recently a leader that I respect requested my thoughts on a new business venture. We sat down and, for the next 30 minutes, this person shared their ideas and concerns. As I asked questions to uncover potential holes in the person’s thinking, I began to see that they weren’t truly open to exploring the risks of their new opportunity. A great question will always uncover the truth, whether one wants to hear it or not. 

Studies show that just 17 percent of salespeople think they’re pushy. Yet buyers believe it’s closer to 50 percent, while only 3 percent of buyers completely trust sales people. Obviously, we are not asking the right questions or exploring how we show up.  

Are you relying too much on your past leadership experience without asking the right questions in a world of hyper-competition? Do you minimize the impact of a good question?

People respond with more candor when we open with thoughtful questions, says the Journal of Consumer Research. Similarly, Gong Research found that an optimal discovery discussion requires 11 to 14 thoughtful questions. The threshold of honesty is always so much higher than we imagine. Hubspot Research uncovered that emails containing 1-3 questions are 50 percent more likely to get replies than emails lacking them. Questions spark creativity, disrupting negative communication patterns and prompting internal assessment, by definition.  

At a recent Elevation Forum, we discussed the power of asking an uncommon question. In my coaching practice, I often observe that leaders will veer away from questions that open doors to difficult conversations. What are the questions you should be asking? Here are some that may positively disrupt:  

  1. What rules should you be breaking?   
  2. Why do people leave this organization?     
  3. How am I showing up with both my customer and my team? 
  4. Where have we lost our distinct advantage? 
  5. Where are we playing scared or operating blindly? 
  6. What are our competitors paying attention to that we have ignored? 
  7. What question am I not asking that I should be?  

Are you afraid of responding to a difficult question, or are you afraid of the answer? Either way you are missing an opportunity to transform the moment. The people I admire most ask thoughtful questions. 

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. – Voltaire