Asking power questions may be the most important, yet least developed, skill for leadership  success. In the work I do coaching executives, we discuss how they are using questions. You’d be surprised at how many smart leaders are great at giving answers, but fall short on asking questions.

In my monthly newsletter, Proffittable Times, I always start out with three questions to ask yourself. This month I asked subscribers three questions about their drive to lead. It’s designed to get to you start thinking deeply about a topic. These are what I call power questions.

One popular belief holds that we win friends and new business by being clever and quick on our feet, and that our brilliance—saying just the right thing—is what attracts others. But knowing the right question to ask is actually far more valuable than having a ready answer.

Power questions – the kind that make you think and opens up the conversation – can help you:

  • Open your mind and fuel conversations
  • Reframe and redefine a problem
  • Challenge underlying assumptions
  • Force us to examine new perspectives
  • Innovate for the future
  • Forge important relationships
  • Gather information
  • Focus us on what’s most important

Transformational teachers like Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha were masters at using powerful questions as teaching tools, forever changing the lives of their disciples. Albert Einstein and Peter Drucker were 20th-century intellectuals known for asking provocative questions.

In Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, 2012), consultants Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas present more than 200 significant questions, along with stories about how to use them.

“The questions we select have the power to give life to conversations in unexpected and delightful ways,” they write. “They are powerful tools to get directly to the heart of the matter. They are the keys to opening locked doors.”

Here’s an example of a power question that can help you improve relationships, manage priorities and enjoy greater influence. When people ask you about your work, ask them this power question first:

“What would you like to know about…?”

What are they interested in learning? Don’t assume you know. There’s nothing worse than giving a five-minute answer to the wrong question.

If time is tight, make sure your answer is brief and on target (i.e., “What part of my background interests you?” or “What would you like me to focus on?”). After you respond, ask if you’ve answered the question and if there’s anything else they want you to cover.

The next time you’re asked about your company, or your job, be sure to clarify and ask a few questions yourself. You’ll find there’s more power in a question than in an answer. What’s been your experience with asking power questions? I’d love to hear from you; contact me here.