All Articles Leadership Management Do you know how to lead with questions?

Do you know how to lead with questions?

What questions does a wise leader ask? Bob Tiede explains how -- and why -- to lead with questions to carve out success for a company.

4 min read


tiede leading with questions

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Many leaders find themselves working with teams from diverse backgrounds. Diverse teams are essential to having the best productivity, but how does someone go about leading them? Before you can begin to lead the team, you must get to know the team and there are three simple steps to help with just that — and learning to lead with questions is key.

First, however, you have to start by building community. This can start with a simple exercise of having teammates share their story. Hearing one another’s stories helps to humanize everyone on the team and helps everyone feel a bit more known and connected.

Next, you open up the floor and ask the team to share three to four events that helped shape who they are today. You’ll likely find yourself learning many things and connecting with people you already thought you knew very well. All it takes is one question and one story to deepen an already established connection.

Finally, once that sense of community and connection has been created, you want to find out the strengths of each team member. How can your team leverage those individual strengths? People are three to 10 times more productive when they are working in their area of strength. And guess what? You don’t have to pay them more. They, in fact, usually feel that “if leadership knew how much fun I am having at work, they might not want to pay me!” 

Now, with a more unified and connected team, you’re ready to lead. Of course, the best way is to lead with questions.

What questions should leaders ask?

What do you recommend?

If used over time, this encourages employees to come to you ready to discuss ideas. Typically, the most valuable ideas come from the frontline workers who spend the most time with customers. They understand customer frustrations, opportunities to use new technology and the realities of working on the floor.

How can we test that?

It’s always important to test out new ideas and suggestions to see how they will affect your organization. Let your team find a way to test them in real time, even if you don’t necessarily agree. You may be surprised. Testing offers healthy surprises and, with purposeful practice, encourages your staff to bring new ideas to the table.

What do you need from me?

As a leader, you should be working to accelerate your team’s work. Ask them to consider the obstacles they may face and how you could help them. They may need money, resources, or access to others with a particular skill set. Instead of inspecting or impeding your team’s work, you can help remove the barriers to their success.

A leader must listen

Questions help you focus a conversation without limiting creativity. A 2004 study by Boston University assistant professor Emily Heaphy (then at the University of Michigan) and consultant Marcial Losada found that high-performing teams asked 22 times more questions than low-performing teams. 

While remembering to lead with questions is essential, many leaders often forget step two: listening.

The best way to improve communication is to focus on listening. How much time do you allow for listening to others and what they want to discuss? Creating time and listening with an open mind brings out the confidence in others and encourages them to share their questions, needs and ideas. 

Create space for a thoughtful response

The most powerful questions start open-ended. They don’t lead to easy yes or no answers. They challenge and re-examine the status quo. This creates room for genuine two-way conversations, which reflect a more open, balanced and reciprocal sharing of perspectives. Here, communication is approached as a puzzle or a collage, with each person holding a critical piece.

The purpose is not to deliver the perfect message or to win people over but to explore an issue or opportunity together — pooling observations and data, raising and testing assumptions, and creating new ideas out of the mix.

So as you’re leading your team or family or friends, remember to always lead with questions. Take a moment in your next conversation to ask yourself, “Am I creating a space where authenticity and creativity can thrive?”

Bob Tiede has been on the staff of Cru for more than 51 years and is on the US Leadership Development Team. Inspired by the Michael Marquardt book Leading With Questions, Tiede launched the “Leading With Questions” blog 10 years ago.

This post is created in partnership with digital marketing agency Weaving Influence, which markets books and services for authors, thought leaders, coaches, consultants, nonprofit leaders and others.


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