Author Bob Tiede: Leadership with Questions


Bob Tiede is a leadership expert and the author of “Leading with questions” – book that teaches leaders and managers to ask the right things to advance their business.

Bob has been on the staff of Cru for 44 years. He currently serves on the U.S. Leadership Development Team and is passionate about seeing leaders grow and multiply their effectiveness.

In Weekdone we love effective leadership. So we talked with Bob about what are the best questions a leader can ask. The short answer is, I think: “A new leader who will shift their paradigm from “Leading by Telling” to “Leading by Asking” will increase their leadership effectiveness tenfold!”

To know more, read the interview:

Bob Tiede Author Interview
Bob Tiede

How to become a good leader? What sort of skill set should you develop?

As I study leaders – I see a lot of benevolent dictators.

They are not bad people – they have good hearts – but they think the job of the Leader is to “Tell” all of their staff what to do! Truth be told – I was one of those “benevolent dictators” for many years. In 2006 I came across Dr. Michael Marquardt’s book “Leading With Questions.” Reading that book forever changed my leadership from “Telling” to “Asking.”

Peter Drucker once said “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.”

Ken Blanchard recently shared: “When I ask people to talk about the best boss they ever had, they always mention one quality—listening.”

So two skills that I highly recommend for Leaders to develop are:

  • Asking Questions
  • Listening

If you were in a row boat with 7 of your staff and the boat had 8 oars how many of your staff would you like to see rowing with you? Might your answer be all of them? Why then as a Leader would you want to lead by having to figure out on your own the best path forward? Why would you not want to ask all your staff “What do you think?” in order to get all of their oars in the water rowing with you to the best possible future?

Jack Welsh former Chairman and CEO of General Electric said “When you are an individual contributor you try to have all the answers. When you are a leader your job is to have all the questions.”

What sort of mistakes are common among new leaders and managers and what sort of mistakes do experienced leaders do most often?

Most new Leaders and Managers think they need to have all the answers! When the truth is what they really need are just some of the right questions.

It is counter-intuitive, but the leader who asks her/his staff what they think is the best way forward is actually perceived by their staff as smarter/wiser than the leader who never asks for input and always simply gives orders.

A new leader who will shift their paradigm from “Leading by Telling” to “Leading by Asking” will increase their leadership effectiveness tenfold!

The mistake that I think “Experienced Leaders” most often make is to trust that what worked last time will work again this time without taking anytime to ask “Has anything changed from the last time we did this?” or without asking: “How could we improve on what we did last time?” or without asking the customer/client “How could we improve this product or service from what we delivered to you last time?”

Let me define “Experienced Leaders” not as “old” leaders but as “any leader doing something for the second time.”

In your e-book”Great leaders ask questions” and blog you emphasize the importance of asking the right questions. But how can you be sure you get the right answers?

My lifelong Mentor – a man named Bobb Biehl says “If you ask profound questions you get profound answers. If you ask shallow questions you get shallow answers. If you ask no questions you get no answers at all.”

I take this to mean that not all questions are great questions – there will be some questions that will be far more effective than others. But if I ask no questions I can be 100% assured that I will get no answers!

So the next question is how can I find profound questions to ask? May I make a suggestion? Actually I’d suggest a “New Hobby” for you as a Leader.

Start collecting great questions! Create a document on your computer/tablet/smart phone where every time you find a great question that you add it to your collection. And then of course look for opportunities to use those questions.

I also have discovered that great questions are often quite simple. I share with leaders all the time that I can train them to start asking great questions in 30 seconds by asking them to memorize my 4 most favorite questions:

  • What do you think?
  • What else?
  • What else?
  • What else?

Can you now close your eyes and repeat back my 4 most favorite questions?

If you can – you are on your way to asking great questions. Many times it really is that simple – whatever the issue on your table is – ask your staff “What do you think about _______?” And when they answer, lean forward and ask “What else?” or “Please tell me more.” And when they answer say “What else?” or “Please keep talking.” Often it will be when you ask the 3rd or 4th time that you will receive their very best input.

Here is another set of 4 questions that were shared by a consultant who said he makes a great six figure income ($100,000 plus) by asking 4 questions:

  • What is going well?
  • What’s not?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • What needs to change?

He emphasize the importance of starting with “What’s going well?” We so often want to immediately jump to “What’s not going well?” But spending time sharing/listing all that is going well creates a very positive atmosphere – it makes those you ask feel like they are already winning – so when you ask “What’s not?” they are already in a positive state of mind to address the area(s) of challenge.

A lot of leaders have, for a long time, done things differently from what you teach. The idea of asking the right questions may seem distant to many. How can those leaders best retrain their mindset?

How did you learn to swim? You got into the water! And your goal was not to set a new record for the 100 Meter Free Style – but rather your goal was not to drowned.

Let me ask you “How do you feel when your leader asks you “What do you think about __________?” Might your response be: “It makes me feel good or valued or respected.”

She/he is indicating by their question that they think I have something of value to contribute. So if that is true when your leader asks you “What do you think?” what is likely to be true of your staff/peers when you asking them “What do you think?”

So: Jump into the water – start a collection of questions.

Stay in the water – at the beginning of every day, think through who you are going to be meeting with and what group meetings you will be a part of and think through what questions might you ask? Then write them down and use them.

What to you do if you feel you’ve got no-one to ask questions from and you’re thinking “I need to figure that out myself.”?

If you were asking me that question over lunch – I would ask: “Can you please tell me more?” (In other words I think it would be wise for me to better understand what might be going on here before I respond with an answer or another question. I am sensing that the person asking this question may feel very isolated – I would want to know more about why she/he feels that way?

Or she/he may feel “my boss told me to figure this out by myself and I feel stuck.’’ I have actually shared another of my favorite questions here: “Can you please tell me more?”

As a leader, I’ve often heard maybe 5% of the issue and instantly started responding with my answer! Only to discover that I did not really understand the question. Does this make sense?

I will respond with a few thoughts.

f someone says “I have no one I can ask!” I might ask: “How do you know that?” or if I feel like a little humor might be OK I might ask: “How long have you been the only living person on a deserted remote island without internet or cell phone or any other way to communicate?” Or again in a lighthearted way I might ask: “Is Google not working on your computer?”

Having injected a bit of humor I might then ask: Seriously, can we brainstorm a bit? – Can we shoot for a list of at least 10 people you might ask?

Who might you ask in your company? Might any of your friends be able to help? Any past or present teachers? Who do you know in your industry that you might be able to ask? Are there Customers/Clients you might ask?

Even though you might not know them personally who are the “Experts” on this topic? – might you be able to figure out their email address and send them a short email asking them for their input? What would happen if you typed your question into “Google?”

In your e-book, you mention handling meetings with a question “what outcome are we looking for?”. In here, what to you think should be the next question?

I’d turn the question around and ask: What do you think might be the next question(s)?

90% of the time when someone asks me a question and I turn it around they quickly solve their own problem and because they own that solution, that odds of that solution working for them is very high!

The question “What outcome are we looking for?” is really a question to define “Where do we want to go? – i.e. what is our destination?” I will keep asking that question until it is clearly defined – usually with “how much by when”

Once we know where “There” is (our destination) then my second question is always “Where are we now?” For example if “There” = “We want our Annual Sales to be $10 Million by the end of 2016” – that is a very clear destination. But next I want to know where are we at now? i.e. where is “Here?” If someone who knows at the table says “our current annual sales are $7.5 Million” we then know where “Here” is.

We also now know what the gap is between “Here” & “There.” In this case $2.5 Million. If no one at the table knows where “Here” is then we need to ask “Who does know? Or How can we find out?

You cannot develop a plan to get from “Here” to “There” if you don’t know where “There” or “Here” is!

But once we know where “There” and “Here” are both at – then the third question then becomes: What can we do to move our annual sales from “Here =$7.5 Million” to “There = $10 million?”

What do you think the main challenges will be for running a company in 2020?

[Tweet “Success in the past – or the present – or in the future always requires “Great Employees!” – B. Tiede”]

Success in the past – or the present – or in the future always requires “Great Employees!” Because “Great Employees” will always figure out how to win! So the real question then is “How do we attract and retain them?

Let me answer that from the viewpoint of what Millennials want:

They want to be included – i.e. they want their leader to ask them: “What do you think?”

They want to be trained. One of my favorite books written by two friends of mine is “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.” The title alone sold me on the book.

Someone once asked, “What if we train our people and they leave?” I like the question someone else asked in response: “What if we don’t train our people and they stay?” Great Staff are much more likely to stay where there are intentional Leadership Development programs.

They want to be part of an organization that will value and make use of their “Strengths” and will actually focus the personal development of that staff member on the continued development of their strengths vs focused the personal development of their staff on addressing weaknesses.

Many companies believe they can train anyone they hire to do whatever they need them to do.

But the best companies view the strengths of each of their staff as unique and continually ask the question how can we make the best use out of this employee who has these incredible strengths?

They want to be part of an organization that cares about their unique desires/wishes.

Another of my favorite books is “Love Em or Lose Em.” Most companies don’t ask the “What would it take to keep you?” question until a staff member announces they are leaving! Dumb! If you want to keep great staff you have to continually ask them “What will it take to keep you?” kind of questions.

Asking is the first step in a retention strategy. You might think they will all want more money! Now of course you need to pay your staff fairly and then some. But if Mary wants to be able to attend her daughter’s swimming meets – which will require her to leave early and John wants to be able to telecommute from home two days a week and Tom wants to get more training to be able to do X – there is no way to know those things without asking!

If you want to know more, you can request the free download of Bob’s eBook “Great Leaders ASK Questions – A Fortune 100 List” on his blog: