Fresh Perspectives on the Power of Questions

Last week in the Better Leaders, Better Schools Confidence Masterclass, Lexi Soulios taught this principle, “The person who asks the questions has the power.”

Her invitation to leverage questioning as an essential leadership competency was not new to me, but it definitely was a terrific reminder!

Great Leaders ask Powerful Questions

It was a clear and meaningful shift when I decided my most important contribution, as a leader, was to ask powerful and forward-focused questions.

Now it is my most common musing, “What questions do I have?”

I first started to learn about asking powerful questions from the Center for Courage and Renewal and Parker Palmer’s work. Their touchstones invited me to enter into a lifelong pursuit to design questions that are honest and open. An open, honest question isn’t laced with advice from my infinite trove of expertise or fixing from my need to escape the struggle. It’s simply curious. I’m still learning…

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Problem-Solving Takes Time

Leading with a question or inquiry is additionally difficult because sometimes the cry from a school leader’s heart is “Please, just tell me the answers!”

I heard this in a coaching call just a few days ago. People want immediate answers, practical tools, and instant relief. However, in my experience, the transformational journey of becoming extraordinary is never quick, but instead steeped in time’s long, slow work.

Today, I’d like to offer an all-new framework for leadership questions in three simple buckets, with several example questions for each bucket.

Human-Centered Questions

These questions focus on the self or others. They are exploratory, for the purpose of self-assessment, deepening relationships, inviting growth, or uncovering new ideas. It’s about people.

In practice, these questions are asked often and across a wide variety of relationships.

Here are a handful:

  • What is new with you?
  • Tell me more.
  • I’m curious about….
  • What’s your intuition?

System-Centered Questions

These questions focus on the system. Most often, problems in schools aren’t about people, they’re about systems. So, we have to ask powerful questions of the people in order to fix the system.

Of note, as a leader, it’s important to ask authentic questions about what matters most. Don’t make all of the decisions about the hard stuff and then share your decisions with your team. It’s not enough to know. You must value them enough to get their feedback. Involve them. It keeps engagement and retention high.

Disclaimer: don’t be gratuitous. People can sniff out patronizing questions a mile away.

Design honest, open questions to help unlock your most difficult organizational challenges.

Here are some examples:

  • How do we change….?
  • How do we grow….?
  • What can we learn from….?
  • How do we solve for….?

Constraint-busting, Creativity Questions

Nothing is more full of life and motivation than dreaming and designing. These two activities can inspire the crustiest hearts. So, I like having questions to help individuals or teams break through to new ideas or innovations.

  • What is your dream?
  • We could if….?
  • What happens if we don’t do it?
  • What’s the one thing we could do that would make everything easier?

These 3 buckets of questions are designed to help you focus on how to create a vibrant team of high-caliber professionals who are all pulling in the same direction. It’s about connecting individually, connecting as a team, and unlocking solutions for the grandest challenges of our time.

We can do it!

Questions will be the keys.

How would you add to this list?

For the sake of the children,

Karine 🌱