Guest Post by Johannes Bayer 

There is one specific skill you never read about in leadership literature. It’s a multiplier skill, i.e. it is at the root of all other leadership skills. If you improve this ONE you automatically improve the others at the same time. It’s the “ONE ring to bind them all” to use Lord Of The Rings terminology.  

Whether you read Harvard Business Review articles on leadership skills (e.g. The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level or The Most Important Leadership Competencies) or other reports (e.g. a leadership management special report), they all tend to find that the “key leadership skills” are: Inspiring and motivating others, problem solving, delivering results, good communication, driving innovation and strategy, providing direction and goals, developing others, internal and external relationship building….

A leader needs to have all of these skills. So, what do you do to improve each one of them in record time?

One option is to throw tons of money at this problem and take many different courses. If you find the time at all to do these courses it will take months to complete and cost a fortune….time to value = months or years!

There is another option to improve your key leadership skills with time to value = days or weeks!

All of the above competencies have a common root: “asking questions”.

To develop a great strategy you need to ask lots of questions; to solve problems you need to ask questions; to build relationships with customers you need to ask questions;…

Asking questions is a multiplier or lever, i.e. if you train your asking skill you can improve a wide variety of leadership skills along the way and rapidly become a better leader in a cost effective way… time to value = days or weeks!

In a nutshell, the process is:

  1. Define the skill you want to improve
  2. Create a list of many questions you can use to demonstrate this skill
  3. Narrow the list down to a handful of key questions

Here are a few examples to of how this might look like:

To Improve This Skill You May Want to Ask Questions Like These


Inspiring and Motivating Others If I gave you 4 hours each week to work on anything you like: what would it be? What roadblocks can I remove for you? If you could change 1 thing to make you happier at work: what would it be?


Problem Solving What exactly is the problem? Why is a problem? How big is it? Has someone else solved this problem already? If yes, how can we use this?


Delivering Results What are the key factors that influence the results I need to deliver (data, process, people, turnover, price, customer satisfaction….); How does world class performance look like and how do we compare?


Good Communication What questions should I have asked but did not? Let me understand your communication preferences: what are they? What questions/comments do you have for me?


Driving Innovation and Strategy If you had to do this in half the time / with half the funds / half the resources / … how would it work? What does the customer value that’s not in our product?


Providing Direction and Goals What is the #1 goal to focus on this year? What are priorities vs sideshows? What should guide all decisions we make ($, quality, client satisfaction, data…)?


Developing Others Which of your skills are we not using? What have I done today to develop others? If you were in my place, what would you do? How do you add value around here?

Internal and External Relationship Building What questions can I ask colleagues / clients to get into a deep, meaningful conversation right away? What was the achievement that makes you most proud this year? What key challenges are you working on right now?


Johannes Bayer helps people to make sense of the complex. He leads operational and strategic projects in the Global Supply Chain department of a large international matrix organization. With a PhD in sensemaking his passion lies in helping people to figure out problems, to learn and to understand. Johannes blogs about asking questions, mentoring and performance. Please reach out and connect to him via his blogLinkedInTwitter or Facebook.


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One thought on “A shortcut to improve all your leadership skills

  1. Barbara Morgan says:

    Good stuff!

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