Leading with Questions (Second Edition): A book review by Bob Morris

Leading w:QsLeading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask (Second Edition)
Michael J. Marquardt,
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand

Unless you ask the right questions, you’ll never get the right answer and that indicates you probably don’t know what problem is

This is a revised and updated edition of a book first published by Jossey-Bass in 2005. During the nine years since then, obviously, a great deal has changed in what has become an extensively digitized, and increasingly more volatile global marketplace. Michael Marquardt’s objective and focus remain the same, however: To provide whatever information, insights, and counsel his reader will need to become highly skilled in an immensely important but nonetheless under-appreciated dimension of effective leadership, asking the right questions. He interviewed a number of prominent leaders and shares what he learned from them. He also draws upon his wide and deep experience with C-level executives, notably as program director of the Executive Leadership Program at George Washington University. It is worth noting that he also serves as president of the World Institute for Active Learning.

As I began to read this second edition for the first time, I was again reminded of an incident that occurred years ago when one of Albert Einstein’s faculty colleagues at Princeton noted that he always asked the same questions on his final examinations. “Quite right. Each year, the answers are different.” As Marquardt explains so convincingly, those who master the skills of strategic inquiry — to know which questions to ask as well as when and how to ask them — will be able to obtain or determine the right answers to the most important questions, whatever they may be at any given time.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Marquardt’s coverage.

o Key Aspects of Leading with Questions (Pages 6-8)
o What Happens When Leaders Don’t Ask Questions (14-18)
Comment: Results are usually even worse when leaders ask the wrong questions.
o Questions as the Ultimate Leadership Tool (22-27)
o Organizational Benefits of a Questioning Culture (34-48)
o Common: I learned decades ago that the only “dumb” question is the one not asked.
o Individual Benefits of a Questioning Culture (48-58)
o Questions That Empower or Disempowered, and, Types of Effective Questions (84-86 and 91-99)
o Roots of Great Questions (86-90)
o Finding Great Questions (101-102)
o Judger versus Learner: The Mindset for Asking Questions (103-108)
o How to Frame Questions (110-114)
o The Leader’s Role in Shaping a Questioning Culture (130-143)
o Building Relations That Empower (152-156)
o Managing Key Employee Interactions (165-173)
o Leading Teams as a Coach-Questioner (178-186)
o Questions at Various Stages of Problem Solving (206-210)
Comment: Too often, the focus is on the symptom(s) of a problem rather than on the root cause(s). Toyota has popularized the “Five Why” approach to avoid making that mistake.
o Using Questions to Bring Fresh Perspective (214-218)
o Leading Organizational Change (232-235)

I agree with Marquardt that all managers who aspire to become effective leaders must develop a number of questioning skills, values and attributes that he thoroughly examines in this book. They include the ability to ask the right questions; knowing when and how to do that; possessing courage and authenticity to earn credibility and, of greater importance, respect and trust; confidence and trust in the process and (especially) in those involved; having a bias for bold but prudent action rather than risk aversion; outstanding listening skills; a passion for learning…and for sharing; and self-awareness that nourishes both confidence and humility.

The information, insights, and counsel provided in this revised and updated edition are even most valuable now. I congratulate Michael Marquardt on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

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