Great results begin with great questions – Marilee Adams

The quote above is from a book that has been instrumental in my learning, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. This book explains that if we want to lead ourselves and others well, it benefits us to ask curious questions rather than making assumptions, something which many of us do exceedingly well.

We can also look to Chris Anderson, Curator of Ted Talks, for another perspective, “Curiosity is really the gateway to knowledge. An idea is such a complicated thing and it can only happen if a certain door is opened and a question asked. Those questions are the fire that excite a mind and help put an idea and answer together. So, curiosity is the question that is the start of everything.” The very nature of TED talks are to inspire curiosity and encourage the pursuit of answers… which create more questions.

Questions are at the core of how we listen, behave, think, and relate as individuals and organizations. Virtually everything we do is generated by questions. Questions open our minds, connect us to each other, and bring about innovation. Great leaders ask questions, because great leaders are curious. They want to hear other people’s perspectives and consider them before they make decisions that have an impact. Curiosity is key for success – no matter your leadership style.

Anyone can ask a question. But is it a curious question?

First, be curious inside your own head and heart. Ask yourself questions. What’s your intention? Are you seeking to understand or seeking to be understood? Do you have an agenda for the conversation? If so, why might that be? Self-awareness is key.

Next, focus on candor and transparency. For example, I might say “I’m really struggling to understand your perspective right now and it’s useful for me when that happens to ask some questions. May I ask you some questions?” When we bring candor to our curiosity, we are more likely to put others at ease, and get to a place where asking questions turns into a healthy and productive dialogue.

Rather than leading with a closed or leading question, open ended questions are like a blank canvas upon which a new landscape will be created. Open-ended questions cannot be answered in a word or two, and generally require more thought. Some examples of open-ended questions:

• What are the alternatives?
• What do you need to accomplish your goals?
• How can we be more effective?
• How do you feel about this?

Is there a right or wrong way to ask a curious question?

There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to ask a curious question. But there are big differences between what Adams calls a “judger” question vs “a learner” question”. Compare the following:

  • Judger question – Who is to blame? Learner question – What am I responsible for?
  • Judger question – How can I be in control? Learner question – What are my choices?
  • Judger question – Why bother? Learner question – What’s possible?

It comes down to a choice between judgement and curiosity, between a fixed mindset and a learner mindset.

A learner mindset questions assumptions instead of defending them. A learner mindset is responsive and reflective instead of reactive and defensive. I want to have a learner mindset, and curiosity fuels a learner mindset. When we’re open, we create more possibilities, and those possibilities are what fuel growth.

Practicing curiosity in leadership

• Ask more curious questions. Remember to ask learner questions vs judger questions. A leader seeks to explore possibilities in a non-judgmental, non-faultfinding manner.
• Have more conversations. Share your thinking and seek to understand other perspectives.
• Make more connections. Leaders elicit new ideas, make sure others are included, and generate enthusiasm and energy around shared goals and opportunities.
• Temper curiosity with wisdom and discernment. Use Emotional Intelligence and observe what’s going on with others or what’s happening in a room before asking a curious question.

Curiosity in leadership helps to move us away from our biases. It helps to provide context and understanding and builds connection and trust.

How can you be more curious today?

What opportunities do you have to flex this muscle in the week ahead?


Carla Ruiz

Carla Ruiz

Carla’s mission is to fuel growth and development by affirming strengths, challenging beliefs, and igniting potential through Values Based Leadership. She presents, facilitates, and coaches in a variety of leadership programs and with companies intentional about strengthening their culture. In her role as a Leadership Development Coach, she is passionate about increasing emotional intelligence, which she believes is the cornerstone of effective leadership.

close slider

    Subscribe to the InnerWill email for inspirational stories and tips on how to build engagement, trust, and success at work and beyond – delivered right to your inbox every Monday morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.