Ask Questions to Improve Your Leadership

Leadership Questions
This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.


Leadership is Not About Knowing All the Answers

Leadership is not about knowing all the answers—it is about leading others to do their best to accomplish goals, solve problems and grow. How many times have you seen a “leader” arrive at the wrong conclusion or take misguided action because they did not know all the facts? How many times have you been frustrated because you were not asked to provide your opinion, perspective or experience?


“Leadership is not about knowing all the answers.” -Bruce Rhoades


When leaders do not take time to formulate and ask appropriate questions, the whole organization suffers—people do not contribute their best; they do not grow, and the organization often takes sub-optimal or wrong action. Likewise, leaders that do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization, gradually turn associates into non-thinking “yes people” and risk looking foolish or arrogant.

A leader’s effectiveness can be greatly improved by using insightful questions. Here is how.


“Leaders who do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades


Benefits and Power of Asking Questions

With the proper use and timing, asking questions allows a leader to:

  • Guide the direction of the conversation and focus the discussion
  • Clarify what others have said to improve understanding
  • Improve decisions with better, in-depth information from people who may know more
  • Formulate well-informed decisions with input from other perspectives to better define issues
  • Precipitate a decision by asking for options and exactly what is needed to decide
  • Develop alternative options
  • Raise the level of thinking in the organization, often to broader, more strategic issues
  • Improve organizational collaboration and communication
  • Help move from concepts and discussions to action and defined accountability
  • Help focus on results and outcomes
  • Empower the organization
  • Make people feel valued and improve job satisfaction
  • Solicit input from those who may not typically speak up
  • Improve organizational learning
  • Inspire creativity and new ideas
  • Buy time to think
  • Help overcome wasted authority.
  • Allow confrontation without making statements by inducing people to explain themselves
  • Lead others to conclusions
  • Suspend the business discussion to discover problematic interpersonal issues, attitudes and concerns
  • Improve self-reflection to discern what was learned, mistakes made, missed opportunities to mentor, what to do differently


“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” -Thomas Berger


My Most-Used Questions

Each of us can come up with a list of questions to be used in the appropriate circumstance. Here is a list of questions that I have found to be effective and useful:

  • What is the real issue here? Is this part of a larger issue? Is this a symptom or a cause?
  • How would you state the strategy?
  • What are the three top alternatives? What information do we need to make a decision?
  • Why can’t we make a decision on this issue?
  • What if we tried this? (suggest an action)
  • What assumptions are we making?
  • What are the constraints? How can we overcome them?
  • What are the downsides? What can go wrong?
  • What are the first three actions we need to take? What is the next step?
  • What would a good outcome look like? How can we make this better?
  • What are measures of success? How do we know it is working/successful?
  • What is holding us back?
  • What does the customer really want? How do we know?
  • What are the elements of value to the customer, the organization?
  • What are the top three benefits?
  • How can we prove the concept before full commitment?
  • What must be true (or happen) for this to work?
  • If you were them, what would you want?
  • How can we get ahead of the competition? How can we put “sand in the gears” of the competition? How can we take 10% of their business?
  • If you were our competitor, what would you do? How would you take 10% of our business?
  • What is the most effective way to market/sell the product?
  • Who are the best people to work on (or solve) this?
  • Who should decide this? Who needs to be involved?
  • Why are we doing it this way? What needs to change?
  • What do we need to: Start doing? Keep doing? Stop doing?
  • What do you need from me? What do you need to get started?
  • What three things can we do to improve this?
  • What does a win-win look like?
  • What else?
  • What can we/you learn from this mistake? What should we/you do differently in the future?
  • What do you think? What do you suggest?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • How do you expect me to react to that statement?
  • What is the breakeven point? Sales, profit, volume, etc.
  • Why not raise the price?
  • What do you need to make this work?
  • Why?
  • What did I learn today? What could I have done differently? What opportunities did I miss?


Leadership Tip: Asking the right questions can inspire creativity and empower others.


Guidelines for Using Questions

Why Presidential Candidates Need a Founder’s Mentality

democrat donkey versus republican elephant political illustratio
This is a guest post by Chris Zook. Chris is a partner at Bain & Company and has been co-head of the firm’s Global Strategy practice for 20 years. He specializes in helping companies find new sources of profitable growth. He is the co-author with James Allen of five bestselling books on strategy, including The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth.

Do You Have a Founder’s Mentality?

Few countries revere its founders as much as the U.S. does. From the founding fathers who came together to write the Constitution to the founders of our most iconic and enduring companies and institutions, we see founders as role models of leadership and positive vision in a world where great leadership and the positive energy of hope are increasingly needed more than ever.


Fact: 1 in 3 winners of the TIME Person of the Year is a founder.


In the past 20 years, nearly one in three recipients of the TIME Person of the Year Award has been a founder (including Steve Jobs, who received honorable mention the year he died). Books and movies about founders have captured the public’s imagination, from The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook to the eagerly anticipated release at the end of this year of The Founder starring Michael Keaton, about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing categories of school and class enrollment—everyone wants to be a founder. Whereas trust in our largest companies is at an all-time low, smaller, often founder-led companies head the list of institutions in which we collectively have confidence.

ZookChristopher_2015 (2)Great founders also achieve great results. During the ten-year period from 2002 to 2012, nearly 50 percent of the value created in the U.S. stock market was from 15 companies—like Google, Apple, Oracle, and Facebook—that are part of the ecosystem centered at Silicon Valley, the ultimate crucible for founders. Throughout this period, founders were at the helm or still involved in 13 of 15 of these value-creating companies. Moreover, since 1990, across the entire stock market, those companies where the founder remained influential performed more than three times better than those where the founder was nowhere to be found.


FACT: Since 1990, companies with influential founders perform 3x better than uninvolved founders.


Even more important for the U.S. is the role of these growing companies in job creation—the issue of primary importance for the average American.  Research by the Kauffman Foundation shows that the largest companies have been net destroyers of jobs in America (as have governments). By contrast, the smaller, frequently founder-led companies are the source of nearly all good new jobs. The data on new company formation and their growth across economies shows that our ability as a nation to encourage, nurture, and celebrate founders is central to making the U.S. economy so robust and allowing us to be the privileged nation that we are.  At a time when ensuring the supply of good new jobs is so important, we should heed the role of founders—and especially the lessons we can learn from them about building the enduring institutions that are the foundation stones of a great country.

Of course, the founders of our country and later of its defining businesses and organizations were human beings, often flawed, with personal quirks or dissonant personal beliefs. Yet our research on these enduring institutions and how the founders set them up in the first place shows that the great founders shared three common traits that enabled their accomplishments and were often infused into their organizations. We should note these three elements as we decide the traits we want in America’s next leaders.


3 Common Leadership Traits of Great Founders

First, great founders are insurgents, vocal and eloquent about an inspiring mission to improve the world. From Jefferson’s list of the unalienable rights that define why governments exist to Elon Musk’s desire at Tesla to redefine transportation, to the founders of Google’s objective to “organize all of the world’s information,” a purpose stated in the most positive and inspiring tone was always at the center. We live in a world in which only 13 percent of employees say they have any emotional connection to the purpose of the organization where they work. Yet, those who do have that connection to a positive mission of what their company is striving for are three and a half times more likely to offer innovative ideas or go the extra mile to solve a problem on the spot. This is in stark contrast to our current election year, which has been branded “the most negative campaign in history.”


Positive, inspiring purpose statements are at the center of great companies.


The second trait that great founders of enduring institutions share is an obsession with the details on the ground, and a focus on (and empathy for) the people at the front line. In businesses, founders were often salespeople or product developers first and the best ones maintained that ground-level mentality even as their institutions grew and prospered. Henry Ford referred to the contribution of plain men who never got into history. Arguably, the greatest contribution of Ray Kroc was his development of a franchising model that allowed all of his store managers to become mini-founders in their own right.


Enduring institutions have an obsession with the details and focus on the front line people.

Secrets from the World’s Most Successful People

Elite Minds

 How Winners Think Differently


Is it possible to retrain your brain to think like a winner?

What’s the best way to achieve your best performance?

How can you conquer your fears and go for your dreams?


Let’s face it. We all experience times when we aren’t achieving all we want. We may be stuck; we may be caught in our thinking; we may even be paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. We may also be doing just fine, but we know we aren’t anywhere near our maximum performance.

One new author explains that it’s often our minds causing these symptoms. Only when we retrain and reprogram our minds, can we possibly achieve the results we want.


“Better is the enemy of best.” -Stan Beecham


Dr. Stan Beecham is a sport psychologist and leadership consultant. During his career, he has worked with professional, Olympic, and collegiate athletes to achieve their best. Legendary coach Vince Dooley hired him to start the Sports Psychology Program for UGA and he has helped UGA win numerous championships. His book, Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success, is an inspiring book filled with tips to create a winning mindset. After reading this incredible book, I reached out to Dr. Beecham to discuss the winner’s mindset.


“Courage is being scared to death….and saddling up anyway.” –John Wayne


Improve Your Self-Leadership

Youre a believer in the power of the mind over the body. What techniques have you found most effective to improve our conscious, deliberate self-leadership?

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to realize we have the ability to observe self and begin to practice self-observation. This is what being conscious means. It’s one thing to have a thought; it’s a very different thing to be able to observe the thought and think about one’s thought. This is what psychologists call “metacognition,” to think about our thinking. Most people become anxious and never fully understand how and why they are anxious. They believe the world makes them anxious, when in fact we all make ourselves anxious. No one or no thing is doing anything to you, you are doing it to yourself. Once you realize how you make yourself anxious, you are now able to stop it. It’s powerful and transformational, and it all starts with self-observation. It’s what I call “waking the hell up.”


“Whatever you believe is true, is.” -Stan Beecham


It’s Starts With Your Beliefs

What are the 3 primary components to improving performance?

Elite Minds Book CoverMost teachers attempt to improve performance by giving technical or how-to advice. I have found that not to be beneficial long-term. The majority of leadership training corporate America does is useless because it’s based on the concept of more information and knowledge leads to behavioral change and better leaders. We now know this is not the case. We have thousands of bright, educated managers who fail to lead. What is imperative is that you understand the relationship between belief, thought and behavior. It all starts with your belief system, that which you hold as Truth. I have found that most people have a fundamental or core belief about self. We believe that we are: 1) Good Enough or 2) Not Good Enough. Those who do not believe they are good enough don’t say it. Instead they are fixated on getting better; they spend their lives searching for a better version of themselves. They say, “I wanna get better,” or “I need to get better,” never realizing that our desire to be better is born out of the belief that we are not good enough. This core belief then dictates the thoughts we have, or the incessant conversation that takes place in our heads. The thought process then drives behavior or performance. We don’t do or attempt to do things that we don’t believe we can do. Individuals who perform great achievements do so by first believing that they can, or that they have a pretty good likelihood of being successful.


“The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.” –Alfred Adler


Why Trying Harder Doesn’t Work

10 Reasons Drawing Improves Your Leadership

Draw to Win

Draw to Win

Want to make your idea clearer to others?

Looking for a way to have your message stand out?


“Open your eyes and look within.” -Bob Marley


Dan Roam just wrote a new book, Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate With Your Visual Mind, and it challenged me to communicate in new ways. I’ve always been visually oriented, but drawing is not always on my top “go to” list of tools.

I’ve learned that it should be.

Drawing is not something only for kids. It’s a powerful communication tool if used properly. I recently asked Dan about his life’s work.


“Business without pictures is boring.” -Dan Roam


Don’t Resist the Visual

In business, some would reject images and drawings as childish. You say that it’s the most natural thing in the world and dismiss this. Why do some people feel that way and resist the visual?

If you’ve ever witnessed a board meeting, suffered through a bullet-point presentation, or tried to read a business-school article, you know first-hand that “serious” businesspeople hate pictures. Pictures are childish, simplistic, and patronizing.

But if you consider that most meetings are torture, that most people sleep through PowerPoints, and secretly admit you’d rather watch Game of Thrones than read “The Harvard Business Review,” you also know this hatred of pictures is insane. The sad fact is that business without pictures is boring – and boring doesn’t get the job done.

There are many reasons this anti-picture mentality persists: In school drawing is considered just a stepping-stone to reading. Most of us had a parent or teacher who told us sometime that our drawings were terrible, and there are few resources for creating or critiquing business-oriented pictures, etc. But I think the most profound reason pictures are poo-pooed in business is historical.

Think about it like this: A century and a half ago, we inherited our educational system from the British – and most of it was developed during the industrial revolution. England (and America, who still looked across the Atlantic for guidance on most social issues) suddenly found itself needing to shift its workforce from fields into factories. Faced with millions of former farmers who had to learn overnight how to pull the right levers in the right order, our modern educational system was born, and the essence was this: If you could talk well, you went to university, banking, and law. If you couldn’t talk well, you went to the factory. The die was cast, and to this day the greatest definer of “intelligence” – despite increasing data and cognitive studies pointing out the power of pictures – remains your ability to talk. That’s great if you’re a natural Shakespeare, but miserable if you’re more Michelangelo.


“The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.” -Michael Porter


How to Start Drawing

In your work, many will tell you what I’m thinking right now, “But, Dan….I can’t draw!” What do you say to the many who resist?

It’s important to realize that drawing isn’t an artistic process; drawing is a thinking process. By virtue of being human, you are from birth an extraordinary visual-thinker. More of your brain is dedicated to processing vision that to any other thing that you do, with nearly half your neurons keeping you alive by seeing the world around you.

Kids love to draw. Drawing is the first way that all of us model and record our thoughts, and as kids we’re really good at it – until the “That’s a terrible dog; dogs don’t look like that!” judgement sets in, and drawing is beaten out of us.

Don’t get me wrong: I love words; words and spoken language are a miracle – but words work best when supported by pictures. Words and pictures amplify and complement each other – in exactly the same way our brains work when making sense of the world.

Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission

Once you realize that, drawing becomes easy to reintroduce: You start by drawing a few simple shapes – a circle, a square, and a line to connect them – and before long your visual mind wakes back up and you’re on a roll.

(In fact, when I do training at major organizations and corporations, it takes most people about three minutes to start drawing again.)


“Business has only two functions-marketing and innovation.” -Milan Kundera


Transform Your Leadership By Drawing

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen when someone learns to make drawing part of their regular practice? Any stories of how this transformed someone’s leadership you can share?


Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission

The first discovery of someone who starts drawing again is clarity. We think that the verbal voices in our head make beautiful sense – right up to the moment we try to describe our ideas to someone else and we find ourselves spinning and our audience drifting away. Pictures fix that, in a couple ways.

First, when you draw out your idea, you don’t have to remember anything: the full logic of your idea is there before you, all in one place, all immediately scannable, and none of it hidden. (And if you can’t draw out at least a few pieces of your idea, I think it’s important to ask yourself how well you really know it.)

Second, drawing exposes holes in your thinking that you typically don’t notice when just talking. It’s really easy to lie to yourself with words but a lot harder with a picture.

I’ve seen this sudden discovery of clarity hundreds of times in consulting and training sessions. My favorite example was when Ted, the Director of Strategy at one of the world’s largest professional services companies, had an epiphany during a visual-thinking class. I was taking the group through my “Six-by-six” visual storytelling exercise when Ted suddenly jumped up, and waving one of his pictures, ran out of the room.

He returned thirty minutes later, saying, “I just sold the job! I took a photo of my sketch and emailed it to my client, then called and walked them through it. I finally saw the way through – and they finally saw it, too.”


“In sales, it’s not what you say; it’s how they perceive what you say.” -Jeffrey Gitomer


As a student of innovation, I was fascinated by your five essential visual innovation prompts. Would you share one of those with us and how this has had an impact on organizational thinking?

Top Reasons Why Great Bosses Celebrate Small Wins

Celebratory team
James Pointon is a customer consultant and an avid blogger at OpenAgent. James is a great fan of motivational and productivity speeches and enjoys sharing his own ideas for personal growth online.


Celebrate Small Victories

When a company wins a major client, signs a great contract or successfully finishes a big project, it is the time for celebrations. However, what happens to those smaller victories, the ones that often make the backbone of a company’s success? Are they celebrated too, or are they just omitted and taken for granted? If you aren’t celebrating small wins, you might be missing some great opportunities to become an even better leader and motivate your team. In fact, the most successful and popular bosses tend to celebrate every victory, no matter the size. Here’s why you should consider doing the same if you want to get the best out of your team.


Leadership Tip: the most successful bosses celebrate victories no matter the size.

6 Reasons to Celebrate Small Wins:


To remember your overall goal

For a team that is working hard on a particular project, it can be a long and hard slog to the finish line. It’s easy to lose motivation and to lose sight of the final goal. By celebrating a small victory, you remind your team of what that overall goal is – and how much closer you now are to completing it. This helps to keep the team going for longer.


Celebrating small victories reminds the team of the overall goal.


To emphasize goal-setting

Not only that, but celebrating each win serves to emphasize how important it is to set goals, and how this makes it so much easier to track your progress. This will encourage your team members to set goals within their own daily tasks and work towards them. The end result will be a more motivated and productive workforce.

Celebrating small wins emphasizes the importance of goal setting.


To boost motivation

When your team is rewarded and praised for each small victory that they achieve, the motivation to continue achieving is much higher. They will feel that their hard work has been noticed and appreciated, which makes them want to continue to work harder and put in more time on each project. When bosses do not celebrate small wins, employees can begin to feel that their hard work is ignored and that they may as well stop working so hard since the results will be the same. This is a dangerous trap to fall into. You should celebrate each victory from each team member, and not just those who achieve something remarkable or at the end of the whole project.


Celebrating small wins shows appreciation which increases motivation.


To show your company’s success

Job satisfaction is likely to be higher if employees feel that they are part of a company which has a high success rate and is doing well in the world of industry. Even if your company is struggling in some areas, it is very important to show that you are succeeding in others. Your employees will be more motivated to achieve the next goal for a successful company, and less likely to start looking for work elsewhere.


Celebrating small victories increases job satisfaction.


To break up the work

When focusing on a long-term project, the day-to-day tasks may be long and monotonous. It’s great for employees to get a break from that work and celebrate instead, even if it is only for a moment. This will help them to return to the tasks at hand with more motivation as well as give them a fresh perspective on their work. It’s a great way to infuse more productivity into what would otherwise be a normal day at work.


Taking a break may increase productivity.