ATD Blog

Smart Global Leaders Question Their Way to Success

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

performance improvement questions
Life is full of questions. You’re bombarded with them all day long. Most of them are so inconsequential that you barely give them a second thought, but sometimes you’re hit with a question that’s a little more important. What’s more, a good leader needs to know  how to ask good questions. 

So how are your question-asking skills?

Why Asking Questions Is Important

Your effectiveness as a leader is strengthened when you know how and what to ask. Here’s why:

  • It clarifies challenges. Chances are you and your team won’t be able to solve a problem with the first idea that comes up. Asking the right questions can bring a deeper understanding of the issue, which leads to the best solution.
  • You’re modeling effective questioning strategies. When you know what to ask, you’re being an example for those you lead. This modeling increases their potential. The right question can produce an “aha moment” that results in fresh, new ideas.
  • You’ll always be learning. When you’re asking a question, you’re not rushing to find an answer. You’re able to remain open-minded and really listen to the input of your team.

How to Ask Good Questions

There’s a difference between asking a co-worker how their weekend was and asking one of the employees you manage what they think about a persistent problem your company is facing. The former certainly has value in building relationships, but the latter is what will result in innovation and positive change for the business. 


Check out these tips for asking good questions: 

Stay curious. A quick answer isn’t always the best answer. When you’re doing all the talking, you aren’t doing any of the listening. Be slow to offer advice and cautious about taking action. True curiosity is the root of effective questioning. It’s okay to take the time to ask enough questions. 

Ask open-ended questions. Words like “what,” “how” and “why” encourage more dialogue. When the conversation can flow freely, more ideas are shared and a solution is more likely to arise. It’s also a good idea to not only ask about specific events, but also ask how it made your employees feel. This type of communication between you and those you manage also improves your leadership skills. 

Don’t be afraid to dig deeper. “No news is good news” is not an adequate state of mind for a good leader. Don’t assume that everything is going well just because you haven’t heard anything to the contrary. Don’t give your employees the impression that the only news they should share is positive. You want them to feel that they can come to you for any reason, especially with problems, confident that a productive conversation will follow. 

Bottom Line


The art of asking good questions is a skill that can be honed and developed. As you continue to ask questions that spark meaningful conversations with your team members or colleagues, you’ll get better at it. 

When a team is working together and each individual feels like they are free to contribute to the conversation, trust is built and creativity flourishes. Problems are resolved with the best solutions and the company as a whole thrives. This is particularly important when managing any sort of major change. Be ready for some unexpected answers. 

To learn how good questions and the art of improvisation can help improve collaboration, creativity, and your ability to manage change, join me for a keynote session at ATD’s 2017 Asia Pacific Conference.  

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from the ImprovEdge blog


About the Author


Karen Hough is the founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, which helps companies transform behavior through interactive training. With a presence in five cities, ImprovEdge’s client list includes ESPN, Coach, Nationwide Insurance, Legg Mason, Cardinal Health, Novo Nordisk, and Turner Broadcasting. Karen is also a number 1 Amazon bestselling author, contributor to the Huffington Post, and recipient of the Stevie Silver International Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year 2012, as well as the Athena PowerLink Award for Outstanding Woman-Owned Business. Her second, award-winning book, Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over, was published in 2014 by Berrett-Koehler. 

Karen’s first life was as a professional improviser and actor. She trained with Chicago’s legendary Second City, performed in more than 100 theatrical productions, and was featured on radio, TV, and film. She lived a second life as a successful executive in network engineering. Finally, she became an entrepreneur. Karen is a Certified Speaking Professional and has presented to audiences of thousands both in the United States and internationally. She is a graduate of Yale University and La Sorbonne, Paris IV. 

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