The Power of Verifying Clarity of Intent

Most leadership teams we work with are surprised to find that their employees don’t remember the strategy. That’s usually because they are missing some critical tools to support effective strategy articulation, but it also is frequently because the team has not verified that intent was well understood.

It is an important leadership responsibility to provide the strategy, usually in the form of objectives and key results that can successfully focus organizational direction. Doing so requires a fairly obvious set of skills in writing clear objectives and in identifying useful leading and lagging indicators. There are two more skills to practice, however, that are not quite as obvious but just as necessary to effectively deploy your strategy: Active listening and asking powerful questions. Without these two techniques, you likely don’t know whether clarity of intent was established. 

In this post, we’ll discuss the technique of asking powerful questions.

The best write-up on powerful questions that I’ve seen is from the Rhode Island Department of Education. They have a lovely policy that allows for copy and distribution of their work (with attribution), so I’m sharing my favorite part of their work. I’ve also included a link to their full PDF with exercises below.

What are Powerful Questions?
“Powerful questions are a reflection of committed listening and understanding the other person’s perspective that is confirmed through paraphrasing. This suggests a progression from listening, paraphrasing for understanding, and then asking powerful questions that yield clarity or mediation of thinking” (Kee et al., 2010, p. 62). 

Powerful questions are:
 –  open-ended questions with no hidden agenda
 –  meant to help the receiver of the question

Characteristics of Powerful Questions
Kee et al. (2010) assert that powerful questions have the following characteristics:

1. Reflect active listening and grasp the perspective of the receiver of the question.
Like paraphrasing, powerful questions illustrate that you actively listen to and understand what the receiver of the question is saying. All powerful questions should reflect that you listen, so this section will overlap with other characteristics.

2. Presume positive intent.
Powerful questions should always affirm effort, skills, integrity, competence, caring and commitment.

3. Evoke discovery, insight, commitment, or action on behalf of the receiver of the question.
Powerful questions can give the receiver of the question insight into their own patterns, thinking, or encourage them to take action.

4. Challenge current assumptions.
Powerful questions can push the receiver of the question to consider their own patterns or assumptions and help them understand what blocks them or holds them back.

5. Create greater clarity, possibility of new learning.
Powerful questions can help the receiver of the question find greater clarity about their own learning, their own behavior, or push them to look at something in a new way.

6. Move the receiver of the question toward what he or she wants.
Powerful questions can help the receiver of the question move forward and learn how to take action, set goals, and get the help they need.

Appreciation and Attribution
Copied with much appreciation from the Rhode Island Department of Education PDF on Powerful Questions.