Book Summary: Leading with Questions, Author: Michael J. Marquardt

Book Summary: Leading with Questions,  Author: Michael J. Marquardt | OpenGrowth

Today, when people are more digitally literate, it is difficult for leaders to convince people with their routine speeches and past experiences. Leaders are continuously searching for new techniques to communicate with their people. Interestingly, not many leaders are aware of ‘Questions’ as a powerful tool of communication. 

Michael J. Marquardt, in his book ‘Leading With Questions - How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, highlights how important are questions for effective communication between leaders and their respective audiences. To get better effective leadership skills you must read these books on leadership. 

He very convincingly emphasizes that Questions can do much more than just eliciting information. Astute leaders use questions to encourage full participation, teamwork, build relationships, empower others, solve problems, etc. 

“Being a leader” this book will help you encourage participation and opt for outside-the-box thinking, which will help build a strong relationship with your team, audience, business partners, customers, and other organizations. It will help you solve problems more effectively because asking questions opens the gate to many answers. These answers, in turn, are a solution to many problems. 

This book talks about specific methods which will help you determine which questions will take you to solutions even under the most challenging circumstances. The author has very beautifully illustrated the importance of active listening and follow-ups. 

Over his 25 years of study and research in this field, Michael J Marquardt has spoken to leaders from various parts of the world and incorporated their thoughts regarding questions as an effective tool of communication. This book carries views of thirty leaders from countries like Singapore, Guyana, Switzerland, Korea and case studies of firms like Dupont, Alcoa, Novartis, and Cargill. 

Let us get a glimpse of the book and tell you what this book has in store for you. 

The book consists of three parts. The first part explains why questions can be so powerful not only for individuals but also for organizations. In the second part, you get some practical guidance on asking questions effectively. The concluding part of the book gives guidelines on how to use questions for individuals, teams, and organizations effectively. 

Chapter I - An Underused Management Tool 

This chapter talks about how disastrous it can be for leaders to prefer often providing answers rather than asking questions. Leaders are expected to know all the answers even before the questions have popped up in someone’s mind. Rather than striving to answer these unprepared questions, leaders should ask questions. 

In this chapter, the author has given several examples of people with higher designations at top-ranking companies who failed to understand the importance of questions in leading their teams.  

Here, the author also explains what happens if a leader does not ask questions. Giving instances of disasters like Titanic, he explains how the inability or unwillingness of leaders or people to ask questions led to the lives of thousands in just a matter of a few hours. 

When concerns are not raised in the form of questions, disasters tend to take place. This chapter elaborates on other incidents like the explosion of the Challenger, the Boat of Pigs fiasco and says that if concerns had been raised on time, these disasters could have been avoided. 


Chapter II - Benefits of a Questioning Culture 

In this chapter, the author talks about the benefits of creating a questioning-friendly atmosphere. People should be free to ask questions. Leaders, through questions, can build a culture in which questions are welcomed, assumptions are challenged, and new ways to solve problems are explored. Questions establish an inquiring culture in organizations, and such an inquiring culture builds a learning organization.

A questioning culture is a culture in which responsibility is shared. And along with it, ideas & problems are shared (problems are not yours or mine, but ours), and the ownership of results is shared. When an organization develops a questioning culture, it also creates a culture of we, rather than a culture of you versus me or management versus employees.

Explaining the importance of how the questioning culture will benefit an organization, the author writes, Organizations that ask questions will be more dynamic, agile, collaborative, and creative.

He emphasizes that the questioning culture has a positive impact on decision-making and problem-solving. Questioning helps people have a different perspective and approach towards looking at a problem. This makes it easier to come to a solution, and the leader alone is not burdened with getting out of the crises. 

This encourages teamwork, motivates the employees, and enhances creativity. This also increases the employee’s connection with the organization, which improves their performance and in turn increases productivity. 

Questioning culture also gives: 

  • Individual-level benefits 
  • Creates self-awareness 
  • Boosts self-confidence, 
  • Increased openness in discussions and flexibility. 
  • Improves listening skills and gives better communication 
  • Helps in conflict management


Chapter III - Why We Have Trouble With Questions 

This chapter takes the reader to the difficulties one faces in asking questions. It talks about several leaders who have overcome these issues and have benefited enormously. 

Why are people scared of asking questions?

Because from the very beginning, we are told to keep our questions to ourselves. In school, if we ask too many questions, we are asked to keep quiet. To some extent, even in our homes, we are often asked to mind our own business.

But, we must understand that asking questions is not wrong. The author focuses on why people refrain from asking questions. 

Why we avoid asking questions? 

  • We are too often in a rush 
  • Not prepared to ask questions 
  • Who will question the Boss? Discouraging questioning cultures at the workplace 
  • Lack of confidence to ask questions. 


Chapter IV - Asking the Right Questions

Here, Michael focuses on effective questions and ineffective questions. Asking questions is good. They should be asked. But it also matters what you are asking. Effective questions can empower you and inadequate questions will make you look like a fool. 

Constant nagging with unnecessary questions may also make you look like a nagger and people may start avoiding you. So asking the right question is very important. 

To understand the right question, he very skillfully takes us back to the roots of the questions. It explains how good questions reflect your vision and preparedness. Many great leaders address their audience without their scripts and agendas. Because they have great questions for their listeners, they are prepared for their audience. 

He has also highlighted what effective questions are: 

  • Open-Ended Questions 
  • Explorative Questions 
  • Affective Questions 
  • Reflective Questions 
  • Probing Questions 
  • Clarifying Questions 
  • Why Questions 
  • Closed Questions 

He concluded the chapter by finding ways in which you can ask a great question. He quoted Albert Einstein as one of the greatest questioners. “The most important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” 


Chapter V - The Art of Asking Questions

The author has directed the readers to explore the art of asking good questions here. He has guided the readers to examine how one's approach, mindset, pace, and temperament will affect the ability to ask questions. This chapter also focuses on active listening and follow-ups as a vital part of asking questions. 

Michael suggests that asking questions in the right manner, to the right person, and in the right way matters a lot. According to the author, you need to have a proper mindset for asking questions. He calls it the mindsets of Judger and Learner. He has tabled them in relationships and mindsets. He has also emphasized that it is important to adapt a learner’s mindset to ask questions. 

It is challenging for a leader to get into a learner’s mindset, ask great questions, and seek answers. 

Adding on to other factors, he has also included topics: 

  • How to frame questions 
  • Timings for questions 
  • Steps in asking questions 
  • Breaking the ice, right. 
  • Setting the stage 

Moreover, listening to the response is equally important. If you don't listen to the reply to your question, there is no point in asking a question in the first place. To attentive listening and countering, questioning is critical. 

Lastly, following up on your conversation is much needed, the author says. If someone has answered your questions, that person has the right to know how you have implemented it. So keeping a follow-up is equally important. 


Chapter VI - Creating a Questioning Culture 

This chapter shifts the focus of creating a questioning culture at an organizational level. Michael feels that it is essential for any organization to have a conducive questioning culture. 

As discussed in the previous chapters, asking questions helps increase the productivity of an organization. This eventually improves its performance. The author has focused on the leader’s role in shaping a questioning culture. He explains questioning culture should begin from the senior level. If a leader successfully creates an environment that is question friendly in which employees can take risks, connect values and processes of the organization, reward and appreciate questioners, his organization will surely benefit. 

For this, the leader has to: 

  • Make a Model 
  • Create an environment to motivate to challenge the status quo
  • Make sure values do not conflict with questions 
  • Handling Resistance to Questioning culture. 
  • Dealing with an answer and telling dependency 
  • Initiate the process. 


Chapter VII - Using Questions in Managing people 

This discusses how leaders can use questions in managing their staff, strengthening relationships with direct reports, helping them to grow, and encouraging action and innovative thinking. This chapter also reviews the use of questions in orienting new staff, setting goals and objectives, conducting performance appraisals, and leading staff meetings, among other topics. 

Questions have the potential to create confidence, enhance learning, develop competence, to engender insights. The author says that each question asked by the leader creates an opportunity for any employee to explore a part of the professional persona he/she has never done before. 

For this, the leader has to: 

  • Build empowering relationships
  • Generate a coaching relationship with each other 
  • Helping reflection and learning 
  • Encouraging innovation and creativity 
  • Set Objectives and planning enforcement of question friendly atmosphere 

A leader also has to be prepared for questions coming from the employees during appraisals, expecting feedback, and office talks. A leader has to prepare the employees for asking questions; he/she also has to prepare them to respond to questions. A leader also has to be careful about who gives a final word and where to stop a particular conversation. 


Chapter VIII - Using Questions in Building Teams 

This chapter talks about how leaders can use questions to improve team functioning, energize team meetings, solve problems, help teams overcome obstacles, and resolve conflict. 

The author writes in the book that for many of us, team meetings are emblematic of the problems with teams. Too often, meetings are held with fixed agendas and little time for questions or open-ended discussions.

Not much gets accomplished, and agreed-to tasks are frequently not implemented. Communications are strained, one-way, and often overtly or covertly hostile. 

But asking questions eases the team’s stress. Not only a leader, but an employee can also lead teams by asking questions and become a coach questioner. The author has defined various behavioral patterns through tables in regards to questioning cultures. To reduce the team’s stress, anger, and negative vibes, the leader can encourage open discussion and debate to resolve an issue. 

A leader can also: 

  • Energize team meetings 
  • Helping team over hurdles 
  • Asking questions to manage team conflict 
  • Sharing equal responsibilities 


Chapter IX - Using Questions in solving problems 

This chapter explores how and why questions can be effective in solving problems. 

According to the author, leaders should deliberately seek various perspectives in solving problems—and the more complex the problem, the more important it is to seek diversity of views. Even though they create some challenges, these different initial perspectives are positive and valuable for problem-solving and strategy development.

The author has identified two types of problems: Adaptive and Technical

  • Technical problems 

These problems are when the necessary knowledge to solve the problem already exists in a documented form or set of procedures. Solving these problems requires the acquisition and application of knowledge efficiently and rationally. They have a technical solution to solve it and can easily do it.

  • Adaptive problems

These have no ready solutions. They are intertwined emotionally, mentally and solving them is a challenge. They require people to apply their collective intelligence and individual skills to the work that only they can do. Meeting this responsibility requires unlearning the habits of a managerial lifetime, new learning to meet challenges for which current skills are insufficient, and the capacity to explore and understand the competing values at stake. 

Adaptive problems are more challenging to define and resolve precisely than technical problems because they require the efforts of people throughout the organization.

In such situations, a leader can: 

  • Ask a question to know the actual area of the problem
  • Questions are essence for a breakthrough in problem-solving
  • Questioning at various stages of problem-solving
  • Improving questions 


Chapter X - Using Questions to Shape Strategy and Enable Change

This chapter shows how questioning can strengthen entire organizations—sharpening strategy, vision, and values and building the capacity for change—focusing on questions with both internal and external stakeholder groups. The Conclusion encourages the reader to begin the journey to becoming a questioning leader. 

According to the author, questions bring fresh perspectives for employees and the leader as well. Questions can open up new possibilities for virtually every organizational goal and function, be it the understanding of emerging markets, gathering information, building critical relationships, thinking objectively, learning, or developing an organization. 

 Michael believes that questions are not only important within the organization but also outside the organization. Specific perspectives can be shared only by outsiders like shareholders, who monitor the organization’s performance. Since they have stakes in your organization, questioning them and seeking answers from them will be equally beneficial for the organization. 

Questioning customers is another crucial step to be taken to improve the organization's performance. Customers are loyal to the organization whose products they consume or use. Asking them questions and getting their opinions is very helpful for the organization. 

Developing questions and values for the organization by asking good questions is very much necessary. The questioning culture should not affect the values and morals of the company. 



Asking questions thus is very important at every level. A leader can engage, guide, and lead the audience. 


About the Author

Michael Marquardt is a Professor of Human Resource Development and International Affairs and program director of the Executive Leadership Program at George Washington University. He also serves as president of the World Institute for Action Learning. He has held several senior management, training, and marketing positions with organizations like Grolier, American Society for Training and Development, Association Management Inc., Overseas Education Fund, TradeTec, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Dr. Marquardt has trained more than 100,000 managers in nearly 150 countries since beginning his international experience in Spain in 1969. 

Dr. Marquardt is the author of twenty-four books and over one hundred professional articles in the fields of leadership, learning, globalization, and organizational change, including Action Learning for Developing Leaders and Organizations, Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, Building the Learning Organization (selected as Book of the Year by the Academy of HRD), The Global Advantage, Action Learning in Action, Global Leaders for the 21st Century, Global Human Resource Development, Technology-Based Learning, and Global Teams. Over one million copies of his publications have been sold in nearly a dozen languages worldwide. 

He also served as the editor of the UNESCO Encyclopedia volume on Human Resources and is an editor and advisor for several leading professional journals worldwide. He presently serves as a senior advisor for the United Nations Staff College in the areas of policy, technology, and learning systems. He is a Fellow of the National Academy for Human Resource Development. His writings and accomplishments in action learning have earned him honorary doctoral degrees from universities in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Dr. Marquardt received his doctorate in human resource development from George Washington University and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Maryknoll College. He has done graduate work at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Virginia. 

He enjoys skiing, music, and traveling with his wife, four children, and nine grandchildren.

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