The Most Important Question You Can Ask

This post is inspired by Marc Cenedella, Founder and CEO of The Ladders who offered his single best career tip on his blog last week.  As one of the top search companies for executive jobs his blog is a must read. I like how Marc offers a variety of thoughts and information to his readers and doesn’t just talk about finding a job. What I like about his post that inspired me is that based on his years of experience and insight the advice was a question (sorry, you’ll have to read his blog to find out the question he suggests — no spoilers here). No deep, zen-like words of wisdom. A question.

Good questions are at the heart of good ideas and thinking. If you look around your network and think of the people you admire I will guess that the majority of these people ask good questions. They challenge people. They make you think differently. They push you to be better. And they don’t have ask a lot of questions, nor do they have to be asked in a tone that provokes you to dislike them.

Why are good questions so important? Asking the right questions as this post at Harvard Business Review points out can clarify something that is misunderstood, build relationships, inspire others (and you), and also challenge the status quo. There’s even thinking around the idea of Question-based Leadership.

What are you trying to achieve?
What are you trying to achieve?

So based on my experience working in public relations agencies and companies what is the single most important question I’ve learned to ask?

“What are we trying to achieve?”

As communicators, we’ve often heard people start off planning meetings with the questions, “What are we doing to do?” or the declaration, “Let’s do a news release.” We know that tactics always come at the end of planning and we should never be dragged into the trap of trying to find the solution for the things we are tasked to do. If you focus people — and most likely a leader — on what they want to achieve you can not only get into their thought process and decision making, but you can help bring everyone together. This can happen because this open-ended question tends to focus the discussion around goals and objectives. Not tactics.

I’ve also found that asking what you want to achieve works personally as well as professionally. Whether its sports, family, school or your job, begin with what you want to achieve. And the next time someone starts a meeting with the need for a news release ask them to explain what they want to achieve. From there your planning should not only be easier but probably more successful.

What about you? What question drives your thinking?

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

Getting Your Degree in Business Acumen

Other Voices: A discussion with Mark Ragan

3 thoughts on “The Most Important Question You Can Ask”

  1. What is the business goal? (build revenues, expand margins, lower cost of talent acquisition, secure license to operate, reduce churn, increase speed to market…).

    If there isn’t a number attached to the answer, you’re in a bad spot because you won’d be able to tell how well your answer is working. GIGO.

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