The Power of “Ritual Questions”

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Recently, I read an article about “Ritual Questions.” It’s a powerful concept–but I think leaders can take the concept much further.

As I work with and study great leaders, I’ve noticed they all do something similar. They ask the same questions over and over. The questions are a little different depending on the person and the context, but the underlying core question is always the same.

These leaders are obsessive in asking these questions–every person they speak with in the organization, customers, suppliers. There is a consistency in what they ask, the conversations they have over long periods of time.

As you start analyzing what’s happening with these “ritual questions,” a powerful ideas emerge:

  1. The questions are always centered on the top priorities of the leader and the organization.
  2. Asking these questions helps the person being asked to think about their role and contribution to these top priorities.
  3. Conversations centering on these questions help the leader learn how people think about these priorities, challenges they may be having in contributing to these priorities.
  4. These questions and the conversations help provide great clarity and purposefulness about what the leader and organization is trying to achieve, and the role of each person in contributing to these goals. They enable everyone to align around the key things the organization is trying to achieve.
  5. These questions reinforce the culture and values of the leader and organization.
  6. They become the anchoring point in driving change. We know how everything we do contributes to the top priorities, and, conversely, know that the organization is will be aligned around everything we are doing to support those priorities.
  7. The executive constantly asking these questions in meetings and in individual encounters provides consistent reinforcement of the top priorities and what’s important to the organization in achieving their goals. People knowing the executive is likely to ask them about these issues, refocus on where they are in their achievement of the priorities. This process creates a reinforcing loop, accelerating the ability of the organization to achieve the goal.

The most successful people using the power of these “ritual questions,” don’t have a laundry list—“Here are the 50 questions I ask in each conversation.” The best focus on roughly 3 key questions.

There’s magic, also, in focusing on 3. It forces the executive to think about what’s really important. Since these are questions they will be asking many different people, including customers and suppliers, over time–they can’t be trivial or crisis focused. The power of these is aligning behaviors, priorities, and execution over time.

It’s tough work, many executives don’t have the personal discipline to think about these, it’s much easier to focus on the crisis du jour–but of course if we get people aligned behind the concepts of the 3 questions, then we have fewer “crises du jour.” (Funny how that works).

What are your 3 questions?

How will you engage everyone on your team and in the organization in discussions around these questions?

How are these important to your customers, suppliers, community?

When will you start?


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Author: Dave Brock

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