Over the years, I have advised many board members and CEOs of large companies on their most important leadership issues. In life, people like to think that there aren’t inherently right and wrong questions to ask, but I think that’s a misconception – especially in the world of business. “Right” questions are the ones that matter. They cut to the heart of the issue and produce an answer that a leader can act on. The “right” questions help leaders get results.
On the other hand, you have “wrong” questions. The mere act of asking these questions can lead you down the wrong path and prevent you from achieving your full potential in your career. Over the years, I’ve heard the “wrong” questions asked a multitude of times, and they can usually be grouped into three distinct categories.
The wisest, most successful leaders I have worked alongside all seem to lead according to this rule regarding ethical questions: “If you have to ask, then don’t.” In other words, if there is something that makes you feel that it is in the gray area or that taking an action might even be misinterpreted as unethical, then just don’t do it. I’ve never seen a leader regret having held back from taking an action when they had an ethical question. “How unethical would it be if…” is a question no leader should ever ask.
Questions Regarding Underperformance
There is a cycle of “facing reality” that my clients sometimes go through. They have a bold vision: a goal to achieve something great. And when they realize that they don’t have the team to make it happen, they start to fantasize and think, “I wonder if Fred or Amy will rise to the occasion and suddenly display strengths or show a burst of energy we have not seen to achieve these results.” Subordinates typically follow a very predictable pattern of performance. Great leaders know who they can count on to do what. So you rarely see great leaders asking themselves, “I wonder if my subordinate will suddenly perform well in a role that does not appear to fit their talents and interests.”
Questions About Trusting Your Boss
There is a saying that people don’t quit companies, they quit bad bosses. So if you find yourself wondering whether you can trust your boss or not, you likely can’t. Go find a boss you can trust, one who will hold your interests in high regard. Rarely do you see great leaders staying in roles where they ask themselves, “I wonder if I can trust my boss.”