Asking the right question

As a leader, being able to ask questions that get to the bottom of problems is important. Right?

Questions, and the way we phrase them, have the power to shape our lives.

Have you noticed how the kinds of questions we ask end up framing the quality of our interactions with family members, friends, and work colleagues?

Have you ever asked your partner, “how was your day?” Or a child, “how was school?”

Odds are that you received a curt, disinterested, and uninteresting reply. Maybe just a stare and a grunt!

Instead, try something like, “What was the best thing that happened today?’ Or in the words of M People, “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

You’ll engage a quite different part of the brain and will be much more likely to fire up a conversation of surprising energy and passion. One that brings forward the positive stories that would otherwise remain untold.

Turning a negative into a positive

In business, paying attention to how we ask questions is super-important.

There’s a great story about a company that was experiencing a high rate of turnover. Fifteen percent of the workforce was leaving every two years.

The management team ran some staff engagements and found a long list of complaints and concerns. They enlisted the help of an external consultant.

On arrival the consultant asked a different question to the original one. “What is it about the company that makes 85% of employees want to stay? “

Further work uncovered hundreds of positive stories, many of which revealed factors that most of the management team had forgotten about or hadn’t even considered.

Surfacing and sharing these stories prompted a further engagement with staff to collaboratively inquire into a second big question, “How do we need to be to be right together? Right people. Right fit. Right company. Right together.”

Fixing things isn’t a bad approach but is unlikely to move your company much beyond where you were before you had problems. A sort of ‘not bad’ to ‘quite good’ transition. But tapping into what is already strong and using this as a launchpad for enhancement can be transformative and take you from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Strengths-based questions and a tool to help you

Forming that initial strengths-based question is at the core of the super-powerful leadership philosophy and process of Appreciative (or Strengths-Based) Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of looking at organisational change which focuses on identifying and doing more of what is already working well, rather than looking for glitches and trying to sort them out. Strategic change is fuelled by focusing on the core strengths of an organisation and then using those strengths to reshape the future.

Next time we’ll explore this in more detail via an outdoor workshop we ran in the Scottish Highlands and give you a tool to help you run your own transformative team and staff engagements.

Can’t wait? Need help now? Then get in touch on +44 7776 153428 and

Best wishes,


Dave Stewart
Founder and Managing Director
The Fresh Air Leadership Company
Mobile: +44 7776 153428

The Fresh Air Leadership Company helps leaders and teams figure out who they are and what it is to lead well in their worlds. We do this by creating bespoke no-bullshit thinking and development experiences for leaders and teams in amazing Scottish spaces with exceptional and unconventional coach-facilitators.