If not, you may be missing out.

Article first published on OPTIMUM NFP’s blog in 2016

Change management is at the forefront of many organisations. As funding changes determine a business-like approach to every day operations, empowering the organisations with strong leadership is essential. An Expert in this field, David Rosenbaum challenges our thinking.


Permission was given by author for this article to be published here.


A fundamental element of Action Learning is the ability to ask insightful questions. You know the ones I am referring to. Not questions that merely have single dimensions to the answers, and not ones that offer little scope for discussion and analysis. Not ones that merely provide the questioner with the answers they were seeking or expecting. And certainly not the ones that fail to promote learning which can result in real change.


Which are the Right Questions

Asking the right questions in the right manner, at the right time, and in the right way, can provide some very substantial organisational benefits, which are both long-lasting and productive. The problem is that in a world where leadership is often mistaken for leaders having the solutions to all organisational challenges, leaders tend not to ask the questions throughout the organisation that will get people to really think and reflect before responding. Usually there is not the time to do so. The pace of change warrants an immediate response – or so people think. In fact, the best response could be the delayed one, especially when seeking solutions to complex challenges that should be the focus of such insightful questions.


The Art of Asking and Listening

Knowing how to ask the right question should be one of the many fundamental tools in a leaders’ toolbox. Without these questions, are leaders really getting the right input and feedback that ensures the picture they have of the situation is the correct one, rather than a distorted view based on their own biases?

Sydney Finkelstein noted in his 2004 article entitled “Zombie business: How to learn from their mistakes”, coined the term ‘zombie companies’ which he said such a company was a “…walking corpse that just doesn’t know yet that it is dead – because this company has created an insulated culture that systematically excludes any information that could contradict its reigning picture of reality.” In this sense, the challenge for leaders is not to avoid questions that result in deep and meaningful answers, but rather to see such questions as learning opportunities, opening an organisational culture that is constantly putting a mirror to itself and responding through informed change.

Ed Oakley and Doug Krug in their 1994 publication entitled “Enlightened Leadership” suggested that “… the better we as leaders become at asking effective questions and listening for those answers to those questions, the more consistently we and the people with whom we work can accomplish mutually satisfying objectives, be empowered, reduce resistance, and create a willingness to pursue innovative change.”


How to Lead with Questions

So how do we best define and develop a questioning culture in our organisations? Michael Marquardt in his 2014 publication entitled “Leading with Questions – How leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask”, suggests that a questioning culture is “… a culture in which responsibility is shared. And when responsibility is shared, problems are shared and ownership of results are shared. When an organisation develops a questioning culture, it also creates a culture of we, rather than a culture of you versus me, or management versus employee.”


Marquardt suggets 6 defining characteristics of a questioning organisational culture. These include:

  1. People within it are willing to admit that they don’t know the answer
  2. People within it go beyond allowing questions, they encourage them
  3. People throughout the organisation are helped to develop the skills needed to ask questions in a positive, rather than negative way
  4. People throughout the organisation focus on questions that empower others, rather than disempowering them
  5. People throughout the organisation are expected to focus on asking questions and searching for answers, rather than merely always finding the elusive ‘right’ answer, and
  6. People throughout the organisation are recognised for taking calculated risks in pursuing the organisational goals and objectives.

How does your organisation stack up? Do you have a questioning culture? Are you asking the right questions and are your staff well versed in the power of questions?

OPTIMUM NFP in conjunction with Action Learning International launched the Action Learning Question Program in the Australian NFP sector in 2013. The Program runs both as public and in-house sessions and its success has been well documented by those that have participated. It is predicated on resolving organisational challenges and developing staff and leaders by asking the right questions.The Program has been formally accredited by the Australian Institute of Management Business School.



About the Author

David Rosenbaum runs OPTIMUM NFP – a consultancy specialising in change management, leadership development, risk management, strategic planning and board governance practices. With executive management experience across a wide spectrum of government, commercial and nonprofit organisations, he is well positioned to value-add to the sector.

OPTIMUM NFP is currently an accredited consultant on the National Disability Services’ (NDS) Good Governance Program Panel in NSW for the delivery of consulting services to this sector.

Contact David Rosenbaum at  [email protected]  or on 0411 744 911 to arrange a no-obligation meeting to discuss the Action Learning Question Program and how it can help your organisation take on the question culture that many recognise is needed in the modern organisation.