Excerpted from Chapter One of “Leadership for Sustainability Powered by Questions” by Thomas Johansen, Thomas Specht and Henry Kleive – Part One 

Organizations gravitate toward the questions they ask. David Cooperrider

Sustainability as a mindset is about taking responsibility for the impact that we through our actions and focus leave on our surroundings, relationships, and organizations. Working with questions is a powerful tool for creating awareness and creative solutions for sustainable change and handling local and global challenges.

The ambition of this book is to make the concept of sustainability manageable and practical in organizational and business development work. !e organization’s internal processes for developing sustainable working partnerships are vital preconditions for creating value in new ways:

  • How can we stimulate a collaborative workplace culture that builds on meaningfulness and reciprocity in the way we work together?
  • How can we promote invigorating and creative work processes where people thrive because they are invited to contribute and make a difference – and where they experience joy in their own mastery and task performance in an appreciative professional community?

Disengaged employees

A Gallup poll on employee engagement in the United States in 2018 indicated that 53 percent of employees fell in the category “disengaged”. This means that they show up at work and only perform the bare necessities of their role. Thirteen percent of employees are categorized in the “actively disengaged” category. In a sustainability perspective, this is not only a waste of life and potential. It is also a huge loss of the productivity and innovative force required for sustainable change.

Sustainability implies balanced consideration and awareness of how the way we think and understand things affects our behavior and thereby our impact on the world.

Creating this awareness in ourselves and in each other is to a large extent connected to our skill at asking questions that open up new possibilities and ways of understanding. Thus, in this book we regard curiosity and skill at asking powerful questions as the micro-practice of sustainability. Powerful questions invite us to think beyond our own perspective and see things in a larger context. They are powerful because they shed light on our responsibility and curiously explore the assumptions that shape and support our own behavior and that of others. And it is precisely for this reason that they influence the quality of the relations we are part of and the culture we create.

Powerful questions are not just an instrument for goal achievement. They are part of a basic ethical approach that regards curious engagement in other people and perspectives as a key premise for establishing, building, and developing quality and accountability in both human relations and our ways of acting.

The starting point for ethics is the perpetual questions:

The first question: How ought I to live my life? might in organization and business development be phrased as: How ought we as a business or management to realize and manage our responsibility so that it supports the link between the organization’s purpose, ambitions, goals, and commitments – also in light of the people and the wider world that are affected by our business activities? It is impossible to give an adequate answer to this question without reflecting on the values, attitudes, and ideals on which the business or organization’s value proposition, vision, and strategies are based.

The second question: How ought I to act? invites some more concrete considerations of action in specific decision-making situations:

  • What ought we to do specifically in situation x, y, z?
  • What constitutes good, responsible behavior?
  • How can we act wisely in a business and ethical sense and which specific reasons and considerations should our decisions and actions be based on?

One way to stimulate ethical thoughtfulness is by asking the following questions:

  1. What are my or our obligations?

> With regard to the organization, customers, employees, the wider world, the planet?

  1. What are the consequences of possible scenarios, decisions, and actions?

 > What value will they create in the short and long term?

 > What are their positive and negative consequences in the short and long term for the organization, customers, employees, and the wider world?

  1. What does this specific situation call for?

> How can I or we act in a balanced and wise way that takes into account considerations we might easily overlook?

> What would constitute good ethical thoughtfulness in this case?

All three questions are examples of what in the rest of the book we call powerful questions. This type of question invites general discussions on, for example, the purpose of the business and the role of the leadership team, as well as a practical approach to enhancing decision-making and actions in relation to specific challenges

Click HERE to read Part Two “The Art of Asking Powerful Questions” 

Note from Bob:  You can purchase your “Leadership for Sustainability Powered by Questions”  book or eBook today by clicking HERE

Henry Kleive, Thomas Johansen, Thomas Specht


Henry Kleive, Thomas Johansen and Thomas Specht have more than 50 years consulting and leadership experience in Scandinavian and global companies. Thomas Johansen and Thomas Specht are business partners and senior consultants at MacMann Berg – 20 years old Danish consulting company building on a systemic relational mindset. Henry Kleive is the Nordic Lead in Cognizant Technology Solutions, Norway. See more at


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