The Power of a Direction altering Question

One of the patterns I observe in myself and other leaders is that when we are asked a question, we feel compelled to come up with an answer. I’ve recently started reading Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna. I say started because within the first chapter he asked a question I haven’t been able to yet answer to my satisfaction: How are you complicit in creating the conditions of your life you say you don’t want?


This, in turn, has made me reflect anew on one of the critical and undervalued ways leaders add value: by formulating and posing thought-provoking questions and then allowing space for others to think and respond.

So, to break this down:

  1. Formulate: great questions rarely happen in isolation. They are in response to what we’ve not simply been listening to but what we’ve been missing. To quote John Miller: QBQ - the question behind the question. What is the question people are really asking that sits behind what they appear to be enquiring about? What’s more, it’s critical we honour the person we are asking by taking the time to formulate a question that is insightful, tailored to them and their context and worthy of their serious consideration.

  2. Pose: a well-asked question effectively has three criteria: intent, tone, and timing. For a question to have the power it needs to be direction-confirming or direction-altering. A question needs to be asked with genuine positive intent, not in the hope that by posing your answer to a question as a question you’ll help move others thinking in the direction you think it needs to go. If the intent is genuine then the tone in which the question is asked needs to match it by being genuinely curious. Finally, for a question to realise its potential it needs to be asked at a time when the recipients are able to hear it, entertain it and respond in kind genuinely.

  3. Allow: if we are on the receiving end of a direction confirming or direction altering question it requires us to stop and think. For this to happen the questioner must hold the space for us to engage with it fully. This takes discipline. As the questioner, having offered up a well-formulated question with genuine curiosity about our response, we must contain ourselves, rather than jumping into add or reframe. For a question to be thought-provoking it has to be sufficiently confronting and intriguing to stop our current thinking in its tracks and consider an alternative course of travel.

So, a question for you to consider: What was the last direction-changing question someone asked you?

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