Why Are Questions So Important?  Part II

Excerpted from John Maxwell’s Book “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions” with permission.

Today’s “Excerpt” is Part II – to read Part I – sharing the first three reasons that questions are so valuable please click “HERE!”

The Value of Questions

4. Questions Cultivate Humility

Early in my career I didn’t ask many questions. I mistakenly believed that as a leader I should know the answers to the people’s questions. As a result, I adopted the ridiculous attitude of “fake it ’til you make it.” Unfortunately, that caused me to do a lot of faking but very little making. It took time for me to become mature enough to say, “I don’t know” and “I need your help.”

Had I been wiser, I would have paid attention to the words of King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who looked at the enormity of his leadership responsibilities and said, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.”

Paul Martinelli, the president of the John Maxwell Team, once told me, “All fear stems from either ‘I am not enough’ or ‘I don’t have enough.’ ” That’s a keen insight. Too often, fear keeps us from being vulnerable and feeling secure enough to ask questions. When I was a young leader, I didn’t feel wise enough, strong enough, mature enough, competent enough, confident enough, or qualified enough. When I began to be honest with myself, allow my weaknesses to humble me, and go to God for help, I began to change. I became more open and authentic. I was willing to admit my mistakes and weaknesses. I developed appropriate humility, and I began to change and grow.

My journey at that time was difficult and often lonely. I had to drop many bad habits. I had to change wrong priorities. I had to embrace new ways of thinking. I had to ask myself hard questions. Before, I had been unwilling to be wrong, and as a result I had been unable to discover what was right. Isn’t it strange how we must surrender being right in order to find what’s right, how humility enables us to be authentic, vulnerable, trustworthy, and intimate with others? People are open to those who are open to them.

5. Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation

Larry King, who has made his living speaking to people as a television talk show host, believes that asking questions is the secret of good conversation. He says,

I’m curious about everything, and if I’m at a cocktail party, I often ask my favorite question: “Why?” If a man tells me he and his family are moving to another city: “Why?” A woman is changing jobs: “Why?” Someone roots for the Mets: “Why?”

On my television show, I probably use this word more than any other. It’s the greatest question ever asked, and it always will be. And it is certainly the surest way of keeping a conversation lively and interesting.

Whenever I am preparing for a meeting with someone, I spend time determining what questions I want to ask. I do this because I want to make the most of the time I have, but I also do it to engage with the other person. I want people to know that I value them, and that, if possible, I want to add value to them. To do that, I believe I must get to know them. That requires that I ask questions, they talk, and I listen. And if I hope to receive value from people, again I need to ask questions and listen. You can’t do these things unless you get to know people.

I encourage the use of questions to engage others and to learn from them. I believe you will find it one of the most rewarding practices you ever develop.

6. Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas

I am a strong believer in the power of ideas and of shared thinking. Any idea gets better when the right people get a chance to add to it and improve it. And good ideas can become great ones when people work together to improve them. I believe so strongly in this idea that in my book How Successful People Think I wrote a chapter called “Benefit from Shared Thinking.”

Questions to Ask During a Learning Session

The meetings I look forward to most are the learning lunches I schedule every month with people who can teach me. When we meet, I come armed with questions. Many are specific to the individuals I’m meeting with. But there are some questions I try to ask everyone. You may want to use them too:

  • What is the greatest lesson you have learned? By asking this question I seek their wisdom.
  • What are you learning now? This question allows me to benefit from their passion.
  • How has failure shaped your life? This question gives insight into their attitude.
  • Who do you know whom I should know? This allows me to engage with their network.
  • What have you read that I should read? This question directs my personal growth.
  • What have you done that I should do? This helps me seek new experiences.
  • How can I add value to you? This shows my gratitude and desire to add value to them.

What is the key to shared thinking? Asking the right people the right questions. There’s great power in doing that. As speaker Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”

In my early years of pastoring I attended an idea exchange led by very successful pastors. The genius of this event was that successful leaders shared their best practices with others who had the chance to ask questions. Young up-and-coming pastors also got to share their fresh ideas with more experienced leaders, who gave them feedback. The atmosphere of the conference was that of contagious hope and creative thinking because the entire experience was based on questions. It was a place where ideas were being reshaped into even better ideas.

I never forgot that experience, and later it was the catalyst for a monthly mentoring group called the Table, in which hand-selected leaders talk with me. The group met recently at a huge one-of-a-kind round table at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation in Atlanta. It was a magical day with great people asking great questions and adding value to each other. Because the Table members are from all over North America, most months we meet by phone. The interaction is fantastic as we discuss tough leadership issues and sharpen one another.

Whom to Invite to Your Table

As you bring people to your table to share ideas, be selective about whom you pick. Choose people who:

  • Understand the value of questions
  • Desire the success of others
  • Add value to others’ thoughts
  • Are not threatened by others’ strengths
  • Can emotionally handle quick changes in the conversation
  • Understand their place of value at the table
  • Bring out the best thinking in the people around them
  • Have experienced success in the area under discussion
  • Leave the table with a “we” attitude, not a “me” attitude

Any leader who asks the right questions of the right people has the potential to discover and develop great ideas.

Inventor Thomas Edison observed, “The ideas I use are mostly the ideas of people who don’t develop them.” Making it a practice to ask the right people the right questions will allow you to develop ideas to a whole new level.

Note from Bob: You have just read #4, 5 & 6  of 8 reasons why questions are so valuable.    You will also be pleased to know that today’s Guest Post/Excerpt from John Maxwell’s great book is only the second of several excerpts you will be seeing here over the next several months.  If you want to continue to sharpen you “Leading With Questions” skills I highly recommend for you to click “HERE” to purchase  “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”  to add to your library. 


John C. Maxwell


John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 25 million books in fifty languages. In 2014 he was identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association® and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. As the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Foundation, he has trained more than 5 million leaders. In 2015, he reached the milestone of having trained leaders from every country of the world. The recipient of the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. Click “HERE” to follow John on Twitter.


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