Asking Powerful Questions

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world – Archimedes


Do you have dreams of “moving something in your world” that remain unfulfilled?

Ever wondered why?

Could it be that, in part, the questions underlying these hopes are too weak?

And how could you actually ask powerful questions that will make your aspiration a reality?

For example a person who asks “How can I balance my work and life?”  and never reaches their goal is probably using a relatively weak question. Why? Just about everyone asks this question, few act on it consistently, and the priorities and pressures of work usually crowd out such aspirations.

On the other hand, if the question is asked in a more powerful way like, “How can I arrange it so that my work life follows my family life and not let it happen the other way around?” the impact is greater. Such a perspective indicates a seriousness of intention that may pan out with the person making a decision not to uproot the family for an assignment in another location. Of course the person may miss a promotion or even displease the boss. But in the end it is a risk they take because this particular family issue is a line in the sand they will not cross.

I am often asked “How do I create a powerful question?” The answer depends on the ingredients you use.

 What Makes a Question Potent?

 Your questions will pack a punch if they

1. Align with your deepest values. We all have an inner GPS that informs us when we are on track with our values. Some call this conscience. Others name it the true or spiritual self. Whatever term we use we know that when we violate this part of the self we pay a price than can be anything from a deep sense of having failed ourselves and others to a pervasive depression that comes over us like a cold and dark fog. So any question you frame that shapes your decision must pass the test with this part of you.

2. Probe into root causes. We learn from our earliest years that knowledge is power. However the pattern is changing fast in our lightning speed information age. Maybe you have experienced the fact that you cannot always have the information or answers at your fingertips. You are now a senior leader and have oversight of many functions. You have to depend on others to brief you and help frame the discussion. But you can ask probing questions and thereby still demonstrate that you are a thought leader. The great leaders of today are not necessarily the ones who can regurgitate information. Instead they ask powerful questions that eventually get to the “why” of the situation that leads naturally to the “how”.

3. Prepare you to take action.  Some questions like “why me?” in response to adversity are useless because there is nothing we can do in response to them. There are  situations completely out of our control like the downsizing of our organization. The beginnings of a powerful question only start when we ask “what next?” in response to the changes. However there needs to be more of a focused statement like “what is it that I really want for my life?”

4. Are in sync with healthy behaviors. The person who asks “how can I find the love of my life?” and then develops relationships with highly dysfunctional people engages in massive self sabotage. So before their question becomes healthy they need to work on the answer to “What is it in me that seeks to be tied up with train wrecks in relationships?” and “How can I find healthy and reality based relationships?”

So master the art of powering up your whys. In so doing you will activate your imagination and you will devise solutions beyond your most cherished dreams.


What are some examples of powerful questions you have used that have led to productive action?


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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