Everyone Can See The Gap

November 27th, 2023 | Leadership
Everyone Can See The Gap

Excerpted with permission from the 5th Chapter of “When Everyone Leads” by Ed O’Malley and Julia Fabris McBride

There’s more to share about leadership on our most important challenges, but we can’t resist giving a little advice early in the book. Use the three questions in this chapter with colleagues to explore The Gap in your organization, company, or community.

We’ve used these questions to help thousands of organizations and teams clarify The Gap between their current reality and their greatest aspirations. We use this tool regularly ourselves to keep our own organizations on track.

Do this exercise and you’ll reveal issues that need more leadership from you and from others.

Set the Stage

Here’s how to set the stage for a powerful and productive conversation about your Gap:

  1. Choose the scope before you ask the questions of your team. Make sure everyone knows, for instance, whether the focus is on the future of the team, the department, or the whole organization.
  2. Set aside at least 60 minutes to facilitate the conversation with your group.
  3. Have a way to track responses for everyone to see (i.e., flip chart, whiteboard, document projected digitally, etc.).
  4. Encourage people to set aside mobile phones and laptops.
  5. Include time for individual reflection (for instance, after you pose each question). If your group is more than six or eight people, provide them with time to discuss in pairs before they share with the larger group.

If you are the facilitator:

  • Stay relaxed and present to whatever emerges.
  • Make time and space for people to respond.
  • Remind people repeatedly that there are no wrong answers to the questions.
  • Don’t work toward consensus.
  • Don’t push the discussion in your preferred direction. Just let it happen.

Facilitate the Three Questions

Question One: When you think about the future of ____________ (your company, your team, your community, or your family) what concerns you the most?

  • The most are the critical words in the question. They prevent a laundry list of concerns, frustrations, and annoyances. These words force a prioritization. “The most” is the phrase that gives this question power.
  • Framing the question around the future expands thinking. People get beyond the day-to-day, focusing their minds on the big picture.

Question Two: When you think about the future of ______________ (your company, your team, your community, or your family), what is your greatest aspiration?

  • The word greatest primes people to think big and focuses attention on the things that matter most and that they most aspire to achieve.
  • Notice the emphasis on the future. Orienting people to their desired future clarifies the organization’s challenges and opportunities.
  • Feel free to flip questions one and two if you think starting with aspirations will work better for your group.

Question Three: What makes it hard to close The Gap between those concerns and aspirations?

  • This question should get more time than either of the first two. Answers to this question describe The Gap. Talking about concerns and aspirations (questions one and two) may not be unusual for your group, but for most people, this third question is unique and illuminating.
  • The issues people talk about when they answer this question are mitigated by effective leadership.
  • Encourage people to name the hard stuff. Reassure them that they don’t need to know how to solve anything right now. For the purposes of this activity, naming is the important thing.
  • Invite people to talk about fears and feelings that make it hard to exercise leadership in The Gap.


When and Where to Ask the Three Questions

We’ve used these questions in retreats with formal agendas, flip charts, snacks, and so on. But there are less intense ways to use the questions to illuminate The Gap and focus your leadership and the leadership of others. Here are just a few ways to get started:

  • Take a personal listening tour. You don’t need a fancy, official listening tour or offsite retreat sanctioned by the organization. Just start asking people the questions and take note of their answers. They’ll point you (and themselves) in the direction of the things that need more leadership.
  • Add it to an agenda. If you control a meeting agenda (for your board, a team, a department, etc.), add the questions to an upcoming meeting agenda. You’ll be surprised how big-picture, open-ended questions stimulate a different type of meeting that is more in line with mobilizing leadership. (Your typical meetings with reports and updates may be necessary but are seldom transformative.)
  • Conduct a quick e-survey. Create an e-survey asking the questions of your group. Then spend ample time studying their answers and drawing out themes.

Making It Real

Dear Ed and Julia,

I’d love to get my team to talk about what makes progress difficult in our Gap, but I’m worried that it’s going to become a complaint-fest. Does that happen? Advice appreciated!

—Hesitating Henry

Dear Henry,

Invite people to develop the courage to hold two things at once: what is not working and what is possible. Trust them, and hold steady yourself. Conversations like this are counter-cultural in most organizations. People are often afraid to look at the negative because they don’t think they have the capacity to make things better. You do!

Note from Bob:  Click HERE to order your “When Everyone Leads” book today!


Ed O’Malley & Julia Fabris McBride


President and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation, Ed O’Malley was founding president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, where over 15,000 people have attended programs from around the world since 2007. A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed has co-authored three other books including Your Leadership Edge and For the Common Good.

Julia Fabris McBride is chief civic leadership development officer of the Kansas Leadership Center and a certified coach. The programs Julia has developed at KLC have drawn people to Kansas from five continents. She is a co-author of Teaching Leadership and author of Your Leadership Edge: Teacher Companion. Julia splits her time between Wichita and Matfield Green, Kansas.


Do you know how to lead with questions?

Originally posted @ SmartBrief.com Many leaders find themselves working with teams from diverse backgrounds....

A Simple Recipe for When Conversation Feels Stuck

Guest Post by Amber Johnson A few years ago, I heard a cookbook author on a radio program. She mentioned that...

Everyone Can Ask Powerful Questions

Excerpted with permission from the 20th Chapter of “When Everyone Leads” by Ed O’Malley and...

Engaging God through Character-Centric Questions

Guest Post by Tom Steffen and Ray Neu Why didn’t Jesus play the role of the Bible Answer Man during his...

Study Reveals A Conversation Trick That Motivates People To Change Their Behavior

Guest Post by Amy Morin Originally posted @ Forbes.com Whether you want your New Year’s resolution to...

 Leaders Ask Questions

Excerpted with permission from Chapter 5 of “Thrown In: Ready or Not, You Are the Leader” by Mark...


By Dr. Wojciech Kowalewski – Excerpted from Chapter 7 of “340 Questions Jesus Asked” ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.