The Four Questions of Leadership

The four questions of leadership are:

(To be asked personally and corporately)

1. Why are we doing this?

2. What are we going to do to achieve it?

3. How are we trying to achieve it? and,

4. What is our motivation?

First Questions

First Questions relate to a leader identifying, developing, and communication the vision of the team or organization. Vision involves creating a common preferred picture of the future. Traditionally the questions around vision development are framed around the question of why a team or company exists. More often than not the establishment, or the implementation, of vision never goes beyond first Questions. The vision statement might be a bold statement of intent but in its interpretation and implementation there is a tendency to break the dream down into measurable deliverables. Of course, all plans eventually need to be elaborated and get specific about planned actions if they are to ever achieve anything. However, most of what these plans strive to achieve falls into the category of “what”. Rather than remaining true to the “why.” First questions fall loosely into the category of “what” questions and rarely really engage with “why”.

The S.W.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is an example of First Question thinking. It will produce data which may inform decision making – but, of itself, does not achieve anything more than that.

Examples of First Questions for leaders:

What need are we seeking to fulfill?

What markets are we engaged in?

What are we aiming to produce?

What is our direction?

What are we doing?

What results are we looking to achieve?

What profit or surplus must we make?

Second Questions

Second Questions are questions inquire about how the team might best achieve its goals. Second Questions are largely questions which seek to identify the actions which will bring the best results.

Having identified goals in answering the first question, the second question queries the actions which need to take place in order for them to be achieved. In a strategic planning exercise the second question seeks to identify the key initiatives, the timeframes for them to be completed and who is responsible to make it happen.

Examples of Second Questions for leaders:

What are our key strategic initiatives?

What specific actions need to happen?

Who is responsible for each deliverable?

When should each action be completed?

Third Questions

Third Questions interrogate what are we doing as individuals, as a team, or as an organization in the name of reaching our goals and moving towards achieving our vision. They are the questions good leaders need to be asking in order to identify whether or not the actions which have been agreed upon are actually being undertaken.

Third Questions not only ask whether or not the planned actions are being implemented, they also ask whether or not, now the planned strategies are being enacted, are these actions really helping move individuals and the organization in the intended direction.

Experienced leaders know that not all the planned actions, no matter how strongly agreed on or thoroughly thought through, will move the organization in the intended direction, at the intended pace, and with minimal unintended negative consequences. Experienced leaders also understand that once strategic actions have begun to be implemented more may be revealed about where the organization was when those strategies were originally planned. This new information may mean that changes need to be made to the strategies, or their implementation, along the way.

Asking Third Questions guides this strategic adjustment process.

Third Questions have the potential to prevent disasters!

In a typical strategic planning process Third Questions would be addressed in performance indicators, performance management strategies, and progress reviews. In other words, how do we know we are doing what we said we would do?

Examples of Third Questions for leaders:

What are the performance indicators for each agreed action?

How are we being accountable to each other for our part in each of the agreed actions?

How can your team leader see the actions happening?

Are our actions making a difference? If so, why? If not, why not?

Are the people responsible for the actions capable and competent to take them? If not, what am I going to do to train, support, or move them?

At an even deeper level third questions seek to ask the questions of:

How do we know that what we are doing is moving us where we want to go?

If our actions are not working in the way we want them to hat should we change?

Is where we thought we wanted to go still the right direction?

Are we moving towards achieving our corporate vision?

Fourth Questions

Fourth Questions focus on identifying the motivation behind actions and personal and organisational behaviours. The Fourth Question is, in essence, a response to the question “why?”

Examples of Fourth Questions for leaders:

What is my motivation?

Why am I doing what I am doing?

Are my actions helping others, or hurting them in any way?

Am I helping those in my team to be their best?

Do I know the personal and professional ambitions of the members of my team?

What did I do, or not do, that let that person think that behaviour or decision was ok? (the most important question to ask when something does not go to plan).