Asking Great Questions

A friend and colleague Johan Bester sent an email to me that he coined ‘question based leadership’. It read something like this:

“Whether we speak to ‘Question based Leadership’ in business or the home, it forms a critical part of relationships and coaching in general.

Think if a married couple could ask the right questions how much conflict and bad feeling would be avoided. If parents could teach children to ask the right questions how better their decisions would be.

I have no doubt that this skill goes hand in hand with listening, but surely the skill to ask the right question/s will give one the advantage in life, leadership and parenthood. It is interesting when one looks at different types of questions, be they open or closed ended questions and how these can be turned into the following: searching questions, analytical questions, application questions and even questions that lead to someone sharing successes, which lead to the discovery or confirmation of principles or processes that lead to success.

It’s along these lines when I say that I believe that great questions can help a leader move people through self evaluation, thought processes and to action, compliance, buy-in, self motivation and discovery.”

I counseled with my Father Louis Groenewald, a founding Partner in the Seamless Institute where we strive to ask great questions about how to move barriers to excellence for individuals, organisations and society in general.  

We realized that humankind’s quest for knowledge is mostly triggered by questions. We see this in small children that often pester us with a multitude of questions. Why? When? What? Where? Who?

The asking of questions is a necessary prerequisite to obtaining knowledge.

Quality teachers and leaders in every sphere of life are always on the lookout for students or followers who ask questions, because they know such individuals are the ones that are normally the most receptive to knowledge and attitudinal change. Encouraging a questioning mind and heart is the essence of effective teaching and learning. And of course we do not refer here to asking questions for the sake of asking them but to asking sincere questions.

The average teacher and leader at all levels, from the home to universities of higher learning to the world of different professions and business, resist the questioning individual because it is ‘inconvenient’, tends to disrupt the flow of the lesson of the day and they often favour the practice of ‘telling’ rather than teaching.

A key reason why such a vast percentage of knowledge gained during formal academic studies are mostly lost to us is because we were not driven by sincere questions as much as the need to study, write and pass exams.  

Most people ask the really great and important questions – what is the meaning of life? What is my mission in life? What is my relationship with God? And then, for different reasons, they may stop asking these questions and get caught up in the demands of daily living. Perhaps this happens because they never come to realise that the level of their emotional and spiritual maturity is determined by the level and sincerity of their questions. Or, they have simply forgotten that they did once come to this realisation.

Leadership is primarily about dealing with two areas:

  1. The dynamics of movement (movement of goals, the organisation, and bottom line results);
  2. The dynamics of human behaviour (what triggers the best in human performance and relationships).

The following are some really great questions to ask when dealing with the crucial areas of successful movement (performance) and human behaviour:

  1. What are the basic drivers of human behaviour?
  2. To what extent does my level of clarity in understanding human motivational instincts impact on my ability as a leader and performer?
  3. If I have studied human behaviour, do I really believe the concepts taught?           
  4. What are the basic drivers of movement? What really causes a situation,  concept, people or organisation to move? More importantly, what is needed for profitable (successful) movement? In other words, what causes worthwhile movement according to my belief system?
  5. When we were successful in the past, what did we do consistently to achieve this?
  6. What do we as a business/department/organisation really want to achieve? How  will we get to what we want? What will we need (resources/skills/systems) to get   to the ‘how’? As a team of individuals, what do we value most?
  7. Why are we here? What is our reason for being? Would anyone miss us if we closed shop tomorrow?
  8. What are my deep rooted values and beliefs? What are my negative or positive values and beliefs that I have come to ‘own’ over the years? What impact do these have on my performance?
  9. Why do I settle for less in life?
  10. Who and what am I really?
  11. What impact on my life does my actual image of ‘Me’ have?
  12. What trust and confidence do I have in the processes I use to move barriers to excellence in my life, in my organisation?
  13. How do I handle conflicts and problem situations?
  14. Do I have confidence in my ability and the processes I use to overcome conflict and problem situations?
  15. What is my mission in life?

Are you asking these questions or have you stopped asking them and settled for something less because ‘most other people’ do? Isn’t it amazing how modern society has succeeded in developing dramatic advances in technology, yet often seems to fall short in addressing these and other ‘great questions’ convincingly? Perhaps it takes too much courage to ask the great questions because these challenge the status quo, threaten comfort and lead to change?

One of the unavoidable consequences of not developing an attitude of asking and then seeking answers to the ‘great questions’ is that we settle for some form of mediocrity and we never move from ordinary to good to great. We ask the wrong, mediocre or at best the ‘good’ questions, not consciously realizing it is impossible to become ‘great’ by asking ‘good’ questions and great questions lead to great answers, which invariably lead to great results.

In todays competitive and pressure filled world a leader or individual cannot afford to slip into the rut of mediocrity or simply remain ‘good’.

Obviously there is a time to ‘tell’ (instruct, convey information and decisions, express opinion, etc.) However when a leader adds in the ‘greater questioning’ approach to his relationships, he enters a higher dimension of leadership where he counsels with those around him. This prompts initiative and team work, stimulates creativity and tends to foster a culture of caring.

So, in short, Johan, you touch on an important issue that should be explored further. We certainly need more leaders asking great questions.

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Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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