Monday, October 26, 2015

Are You Leading With Questions?

Are You Leading With Questions?

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question. -E.E. Cummings

Think back to your last leadership or team meeting. As facilitator, did you create opportunities for the team to process and discuss questions? How did the team engage?  Many of us walk into meetings with exhausting agendas that lack opportunities for dialogue or problem solving through questioning. Research indicates that questions, the right questions, can positively influence an organization in a variety of ways. A question has the power to identify problems, challenge the status quo, identify biases...all catalysts for creativity, collaboration, and change.

Asking the right questions after 22 years
After 22 years as an educator and educational leader, I’ve recently learned about the importance of effective questioning. I engage in the challenging and satisfying work of creating an organizational culture of risk-taking and problem-solving.  I’ve learned to be mindful about asking questions in a number of settings and situations. My goal is to balance questioning with listening when engaging with students, teachers, and parents. The results are remarkable. The focus has shifted from what I think or want to what WE think and want for OUR school. I find myself doing less talking and becoming a deeper listener.

Who’s asking the questions?
If research indicates that questioning is transformational to an organization, why aren’t we doing more of it in the educational setting? Simply stated, our educational system does not foster, support, or encourage questioning. In a traditional system, the leader is the authority and keeper of knowledge. Questioning is often perceived as challenging authority. It’s impossible for an organization to identify problems and develop solutions when the team isn’t encouraged to think. Change the mindset and encourage your team members to take risks by asking questions. The entire organization will benefit.

Courageous Questions = Courageous Conversations
Questions challenge the status quo and disrupt dysfunctional systems. What if we didn’t go along with what’s always been done? Addressing achievement gaps, educational inequities, and a number of other educational and societal issues require us to ask courageous questions and engage in courageous conversations. We will continue to fail our neediest students if we lack the courage to ask “why?”

Inspire Creativity and Change
The most difficult part of our work is implementing change. Change requires one to release old habits and adopt new behaviors, forcing us out of our comfort zones. The process of change always begins with a great question and asking exploratory questions is crucial to problem solving and creativity. How might we begin to push our teams out of their comfort zones with the right questions? What are the right questions for change?

Our current educational system takes a solution-based approach to solving problems. We are eager to solve problems and provide solutions without dialogue and questioning. We are graded or evaluated based on coming up with solutions for problems that we may not necessarily need to solve. Asking the right questions has the power to transform not only our educational systems, but our lives. Questions spark innovation and creativity and challenge us to continue to improve our work. Great leaders lead by asking, not telling. Great leaders lead by asking the right questions, even if they do not have the answers.

How might you use questions to lead change in YOUR organization?

"Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers." – Voltaire


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury


  1. A friend of mine recommended this book. You are spot on in the section "Who's is asking the questions?" This is something that all leaders should take into consideration.

  2. Thank you for the insight, I just ordered the book :) Have a great holiday season.

    1. That's great, Drago. You'll enjoy the book.
      Happy holidays!

  3. Thanks, Adam! So glad you found the post useful. :)

  4. Love this post, Rosa. I'm writing a book about inquiry-based instruction and I love how you connect school leadership with asking great questions. Questions unite us; answers divide us. Thank you!