Questions direct attention to the values that should be attended to and how much energy should be devoted to them. You need to be intentional and purposeful about the questions that you ask.

You need to make sure that the questions you ask are directly related to the values that you hold dear. Barbara Goretsky, corporate director of leadership development at Northrop Grumman Corporation, points out the importance of asking people questions such as “What evidence exists that we are living by our values and making decisions consistent with these values?” Although this question can take many different forms, what’s critical is that leaders ask about the evidence. What questions should you be asking, for example, if you want people to focus on integrity? On trust? On customer or client satisfaction? On quality? On innovation? On growth? On personal responsibility?

Questions frame the issue and set the agenda. In one of our workshops, we suggested that participants who wanted their constituents to stay focused on continuous improvement ask this simple question of every person attending their next group meeting: “What have you done in the past week to improve so that you’re better this week than last?” We then recommended that they repeat this question for the next four weeks or more, predicting that it would take at least that many repetitions to sustain the focus.

About a month later, we heard from a participant in the workshop who had done what we recommended. He told us that the first time he asked the question, people looked at each other skeptically, apparently thinking, “Oh, this guy’s just been to a seminar.” The second time, some of his team members took him seriously and about 30 percent had a response. The third time, about 70 percent reported what they had done. And the fourth? Something very interesting happened: “They asked me what I had done in the last week to improve myself so I was better than I was last week.” Questions can indeed be very effective tools for change.


The Leadership Challenge by Barry Z. Posner, James M. Kouzes