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You’re JUDGED on the QUALITY of your QUESTIONS

 In Delivery, Meetings, Networking, News, Q&A, The Winning Voice

Senior executives will make judgements about you – not of the quality of your answers – but on the quality of your questions.

Consider, that tomorrow you had a short slice of potential face to face time with a senior executive to tap their wisdom, or ask a topical question about your business. Would you have a ‘ready-to-speak’ thought-provoking/insightful question to ask them?

As the philosopher Seneca is reported to have said:

‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’.

First, here is a schema to engage a senior person in a short interaction/encounter:

  1. Have questions ‘logged and ready’ in your mind so they can be delivered at the drop of a hat. (Practising these questions in ‘safe’ environments will help you have a more fluent delivery in senior interactions).
  2. Your mind-set should be: Be quick, but don’t hurry; Project energy and certainty; Think Open-Middle-Close (that is have an Open, middle and close to the interaction).
  3. In practice here’s the words and syntax to adapt:
  • ‘X’
  • Once you have the person’s attention, walk slowing over to the person and say:
  • ‘We haven’t met before . . . my name is Q . . . I work in P department* . . . would you have two minutes?’
  • If the person says ‘yes’, pose your question.
  • Listen well to the answer.
  • End the interaction within the two minutes, with Thank you and take your leave.

* If the person knows you, omit the introduction. However, if there is some doubt, readily say your name/division.

Questions to adapt

These are generic questions. Questions about your operation can have more impact. Logging questions in your smart phone can aid ready retrieval.

  • What’s the first job of a leader?
  • Excuse my temerity here: where you need to grow? (why I ask that is because if I know where you need to grow, being at your level, that might be a future goal for me at some point).
  • Dan Sullivan CEO of Strategic Coach said the first job of an entrepreneur is to protect his/her confidence – your take on that?
  • What percentage of your strengths, capabilities, resources are being exploited in your current role?
  • When you interview people, what’s would be one of your best questions?
  • What might be one leadership lesson you could share?
  • Over the years, have you gotten feedback from your direct reports that led to some adjustments in how you manage and lead?
  • What aspect of leadership do you like most?
  • If you wrote a book about leadership, what would be its title, sub title.
  • What behaviour or what attitude have you used throughout your career that’s  paid off for you, and because it’s paid off for you, you continue to use it today – if you could chisel it to one thing, what might it be?
  • Leading leadership authors Kouzes and Posner’s research shows that the top four characteristics of admired leaders are: Honest; Forward-looking; Inspiring; Competent. Tell me what’s your view on what’s one thing makes for an inspiring leader?
  • Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer said in the 1950s said the problem with men, is that ‘they don’t think’. What are your thoughts on that statement?
  • I’ve heard that an issue that senior executives face is ‘how to maintain energy’. How do you maintain your energy?
  • What things do you do to spur innovation?
  • How has your leadership style evolved over your career?
  • What’s unusual or different about how you run your meetings with your executive teams?
  • How do you retrench someone with dignity?
  • (If the person has worked with you in the past you can also ask this question): Knowing my work can you give me feedback on where you think I need to grow as a leader?
  • Who has been an inspiration in your life and why?

A warning: Make sure if you ask any of the above questions that you’re really interested in knowing the answers. If you ask them without prior reflection and interest in learning, you risk being perceived as inauthentic.


Own the Conversation

In the next seven days, choose three of the above questions (or your own questions) and log them in your phone.

Ask one of the questions in a safe interaction.

Reflect on doing this.

Once you have questions that resonate with people, make a goal to ask a question of a leader you don’t know.


p.s. here’s a post on Why senior execs should buy their people lunch.

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