Ask, Don’t Tell – Part Three

Excerpted with permission from Mark Miller‘s book “Smart Leadership – Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact”

Note from Bob:  Mark’s Chapter, “Ask, Don’t Tell” is Pure GOLD – filled with incredible wisdom on Leading With Questions!  Click HERE for Part One “Why Questions Matter”.  Click HERE for Part Two “Putting Your Questions to Work”.  Part Three “Ask Better Questions” is below.


Much has been written about asking outstanding questions. Read all you can find and consider making the quest for the right questions a lifelong pursuit. Here are a few tips to jump-start your practice.

Open versus Closed Questions

A question that leads someone to answer with a single word is a closed-ended question, for example, “Did you go to college?” As a general rule, the better way to ask that question and learn more would be to ask an open-ended question—one that invites a more complete response: “What did you do after high school?” In this second, open-ended example, you may learn about a gap-year program in which the interviewee served in an emerging country or hiked the Appalachian Trail. One more thought—if you have to ask if the person went to college, you obviously didn’t look at their résumé. Remember: they are sizing you up as well—be prepared.

Single-Barrel versus Multibarrel Questions

I learned this term from Jeff Swatsky. He was the first “question expert” I ever met. At one point, Jeff was traveling the globe, teaching journalists how to ask better questions. He told us the right next question is singular—a single question. He showed us video after video of professional journalists asking two, three, or more questions in a single query. These he termed double-barrel or multibarrel questions (I assume after a double-barrel shotgun). The fundamental problem with this approach is twofold: people almost always answer only the last question, and in many cases, the last question was not the best question. Single-barrel questions are the best; you can always come back with another.

Leading Questions

I guess these may have a place in editorial journalism, but I don’t see them serving leaders very well. In these situations, the person asking the question isn’t really trying to discover the other person’s point of view. He or she is trying to steer the recipient to a predetermined answer. This is more a technique of advocacy than true inquiry. The reason I include this here is to remind you: Don’t use leading questions if you are truly interested in learning something.


I am always looking for a better question. And as we established above, different types of questions serve different purposes.

However, having been a student of this topic for a long time, I still find myself going back to some tried and true questions that have served me well. Here is my current list of favorites:

For the Team

•​ What specifically are we trying to accomplish?

•​ What do we want to be true in a decade that is not true today?

•​ What one thing could we do in the next ninety days that would have the most impact?

During a Curiosity Conversation (the topic of our next chapter)

•​ What has been your greatest insight in your career thus far?

•​ What advice do you have for me?

•​ Which books have had the biggest impact on your life and career?

•​ How can I serve you?

For Me

•​ How can I add value for this person?

• ​How can I add the most value in this situation?

•​ What did I learn today?

Questions are in ample supply. And they are free. They work for everyone—rich, poor, young, old, underresourced, affluent, educated, and not. Once you have made the Smart Choice to Fuel Curiosity, you are going to need questions in your toolbox if you want to escape the quicksand and scale your impact.


Make a list of your favorite questions; three or four will be enough for this activity. If you don’t have any favorites, pick a few from the chapter and write them down (or put them in a note on your phone). See how many times you can use these go-to questions over the course of the next week. See what you learn. Also, if you want bonus points, I would love for you to compile your top-ten questions list and send it to me at

Note from Bob:  Spending time with Mark is always a treat!  Reading Mark’s new book “Smart Leadership – Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact!” will be a way for you to spend a couple of hours learning from him.  You will want to order your “Smart Leadership” book now by clicking HERE

I am predicting that even before you finish reading “Smart Leadership” you will be wanting to purchase additional books to share with your staff, colleagues and many others in the shadow of your influence!

Mark Miller


Mark Miller is a business leader, best-selling author, and a communicator. He is currently serving as the Vice President of High Performance Leadership for Chick-fil-A, Inc. Beyond chicken, Mark’s global influence continues to grow. Today, there are over a million copies of his books in print, in twenty-five languages. Smart Leadership is his tenth title.



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