Why asking questions is a mark of great leaders

The ability to ask questions is an important mark of leaders. It differentiates great leaders from good ones because it demonstrates two key concepts: Empathy and willingness.

Not everyone in a leadership position is capable of demonstrating these qualities. Some get there via bullying, manipulation, and intimidation. This occurs in professional organisations and even in not-for-profit organisations.

How does question-asking work in practice?

It is useful to see what terrible leadership looks like in order to define great leadership. So, let’s assume you lead a small team through a demanding and stressful project. Some of your suppliers do not deliver or run behind schedule. You must report on the team’s performance.

Knowing that your assessment will have far-reaching repercussions for all of you, you identify three options:

    1. Point out the faults of team members and mistakes the team has made.
    2. Self-flagellate and apportion blame to yourself.
    3. Understand the problems the team faces and determine their causes and effects.

Consequences and realities

The first two options are both reactive and aggressive. Your project and team is almost certain to implode, dissolving into a chaotic mess. The third option involves problem-solving of the highest order. However, it needs to come from a place of calmness and responsiveness. You can achieve this by asking difficult questions like:

  •  What can be achieved in the time which remains?
  • What resources do we require?
  • How can we support every member of the team?


Once you identify the over-arching concerns, they can be split into sub-questions. However, the sub-questions need to be logical, manageable, and realistic.

When a leader demonstrates empathy, there is a near automatic switch that happens in team members’ attitudes. When you have a willing team, you don’t have to convince them to do the work – they want to do it! You have shown that you recognise them on a human level, and that you can connect with them accordingly.

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