Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. ~ John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America, January 20, 1961

Great question. It was a radically transforming question at the time.

It was a question that few, if any, had ever thought about before that day.

Great leaders ask great questions.

Great questions begged to be answered.

Great questions have power.

They provoke thought, challenge assumptions, and facilitate progress.

There is power in asking great questions, both for the one asking and the one being asked.

How does this work and why is it so effective?

What Great Questions Do

Promote learning. Our brains have a need to answer questions. A student centered pedagogy known as Problem Based Learning or PBL, uses this fact to help students learn experientially though solving open-ended problems. The method was first used in the medical field and has since spread to other disciplines. It’s effective in helping students learn flexible knowledge and problem-solving skills. It begins with a problem to be solved which is essentially a question needing an answer. Asking great questions promotes learning at every age.

Try these questions to promote learning:

  • What is everything you know about your problem?
  • Is it similar to a problem you or someone else has experienced before? If so, in what ways?
  • In what ways is this problem different than one you’ve experienced before?
  • How could you apply a solution that was successful in a different scenario to the problem you’re having now?

Promote self-discovery. Why do we do what we do? It’s probably one of the most difficult questions to answer especially when we are such creatures of habit. We have habits that make us successful and habits that don’t make us successful. Asking great questions helps you to uncover the secrets about yourself that not even you know, until you answer the question.

Try these questions for self-discovery:

  • What are the things you do that give you the results you want?
  • How can you duplicate that success in other areas of your life?
  • What are the things you do that don’t give you the results you want?
  • What makes you continue to do the things that aren’t benefiting you?

Show respect. Early in my career, I worked in plant management. As a manager, I knew that the people working the lines knew their job better than anyone in the front office. So when a problem on the line came up, I would ask the people doing the job their take on it and what solution they suggested. Ultimately, they would always have the best answer. But like water channeled in the right direction, I needed need to channel their thoughts. By asking them the right questions I helped them to discover the right answer. It was always better than the answer I would have offered.

Try these questions to show respect on the job:

  • What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
  • What do you wish people knew about your job that they don’t know?
  • What is the best part of your work?
  • What advice would you give to someone new coming into this position?
  • What was your best day on the job? Why?
  • What was your worst day? Why?

Empower. Turn the results over to your people. When you ask the right questions, your people become personally vested in their own success or failure. They own their answers and become committed to making them work. That’s so much better than you telling them what and how to do something.

Try these questions to empower your people:

  • If you were in charge, what would you do?
  • In your opinion, what would be the best way to handle this situation?
  • If you could make one change, what would it be?
  • What change would make the biggest impact for your and your department?
  • What would make your team more efficient and effective?

Catalyze growth and development. Teach your people to be solution-oriented. Especially at lower levels of the organization, some employees can tend to surface more problems than solutions. They aren’t options-focused and want the answer given to them versus finding it themselves. This thinking keeps them stuck and you running out of ideas. Force them to come up with their own solutions to spur their personal and professional growth and development.

Try these questions to catalyze growth and development:

  •  What CAN you do given the reality of your situation?
  • What are all your options?
  • What haven’t you tried yet?
  • What else?
  • What else can you learn about your situation?
  • Who can you talk to learn more?

Create connection points and build relationships. The best way to get to know someone is to ask them questions and then really listen to their answers. As you’re listening, find those common areas of interest on which you can build a relationship.

Try these questions to create connection points and build relationships :

  • What are you passionate about?
  • How did you get interested in that?
  • What do you like best about it?
  • What do you like to do in your free-time?
  • What drives your decisions?
  • What in your life has given you the greatest fulfillment?

Uncover hidden opportunities. Many people live within self-imposed boundaries. Each day is a routine exercise and lived very similar to the day before. Routines can be good but they can also put your brain to sleep and leave you feeling as if you have no opportunities available to you. The right questions will uncover those hidden opportunities like a diamond in a coal mine.

Try these questions to uncover hidden opportunities:

  • If you could do anything, and you knew you would not fail, what would it be?
  • What’s holding you back?
  • What’s getting in your way?
  • What can you do about it?
  • When you close your eyes and think about a future that you want to live, what does it look like?

Great questions have power. The power to change lives; yours and those around you.

Copyright © 2017 Kaylene Mathews. All rights reserved.

Contact me today to speak at your next event.

Recommended reading on the topic:

Power Questions, Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas {Affiliate Link}

Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore {Affiliate Link}



About Kaylene

Kaylene Mathews, MBA, equips and empowers individuals and groups to gain the clarity they need to achieve their personal and professional best through keynotes, coaching and training services. She authors a weekly blog, and a monthly newsletter. She is currently working on her second book. Her first book is available on Amazon.