Leadership – Asking the Right Questions


“Management is about answers. Leadership is about questions.

There have been many acres of newsprint dedicated to defining the difference between management and leadership and there is no simple answer. If we assume that the purpose of leadership is to move towards some common aim, then clearly there will be a need to take decisive actions and provide a level of clarity about the options available. However, a good leader should be able to do a lot more than that.

The questions the leader asks should look at different aspects…

The challenge itself:

  • What is the purpose of what we are doing? Do we really understand it?
  • What are the assumptions we are making? If we reframe the problem could we see it in a different way?

The team:

  • How are we best using our resources? Are we enabling people to fulfil their full potential?
  • How could we as a team operate more effectively?

The leader:

  • How do I add the most value here?
  • What should I be doing or not be doing to enable the team to grow?

These questions should be shared with the team, not only to ensure they are part of the solution, but also to make them consider some of the assumptions they are making within their own areas of the overall activity. Often, asking the right questions can go a long way towards defining an answer, by getting different perspectives and testing them within the team or with other stakeholders.

As an organisation gets larger and more complex, it is increasingly difficult for senior leaders to get transparency through the multiple levels, with each level adding some filtering.  It can be helpful to ask the same set of questions at different levels in an organisation to assess how well the overall objectives are understood – and how different levels and functions answer. How the company is perceived and what are seen as priorities may be very different and need to be recognised by senior managers who could be insulated by their hierarchy.

As an exercise, ask yourself: if you re-framed a current problem, would you see it differently? Are you enabling people to fulfil their potential – or just focused on short-term results? What could you stop doing to enable the team to grow?

Calum Byers is an executive coach and strategy advisor who works with people and companies undergoing change. He is a Senior Associate with Customer Attuned.