How to Spot Bad Questions (and Improve Them)

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How to Spot Bad Questions (and Improve Them)

In the realm of leadership and executive development, the art of inquiry is paramount. The ability to ask the right questions can unlock new insights, drive innovation, and propel growth. Conversely, bad questions can stymie progress and cloud decision-making. But how do we distinguish between effective and ineffective questions? More importantly, how can we transform bad questions into powerful tools for growth?

Understanding the Nature of Bad Questions

Executive meetingby Damir Kopezhanov (

Bad questions often share common characteristics that make them counterproductive. They may be leading, closed-ended, vague, or laden with assumptions. These questions can lead to misguided conclusions, stifle creativity, and hinder the growth mindset essential for effective leadership.

Characteristics of Bad Questions

  1. Leading Questions: These questions are formulated in a way that suggests a particular answer. For example, “Don’t you think our current strategy is outdated?” Such questions can bias responses and limit open discussion.
  2. Closed-Ended Questions: Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” often fail to elicit deep insights. For instance, “Did you complete the project?” does not encourage elaboration.
  3. Vague Questions: Ambiguous questions can confuse respondents and lead to unclear answers. An example would be, “What do you think about our company?”
  4. Assumptive Questions: These questions embed assumptions that may not be true, such as, “Why are you unhappy with your job?” which assumes the respondent is indeed unhappy.

The Impact of Bad Questions on Leadership

Bad questions can have a detrimental impact on leadership and organizational growth. They can create an environment where employees feel constrained and unable to express their true thoughts. This can lead to a lack of innovation, poor decision-making, and ultimately, stagnation.

The Growth Mindset Approach to Questioning

Brainstorming sessionby Greg Rosenke (

A growth mindset, a concept popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. Leaders with a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. This perspective is crucial when it comes to formulating effective questions.

Characteristics of Good Questions

  1. Open-Ended Questions: These questions encourage detailed responses and deeper thinking. For example, “What strategies have you found most effective in achieving your goals?”
  2. Clarifying Questions: These questions seek to understand the respondent’s perspective more fully. An example would be, “Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?”
  3. Probing Questions: These questions dig deeper into a topic to uncover underlying issues or insights. For instance, “What factors contributed to that outcome?”
  4. Reflective Questions: These questions encourage self-reflection and growth. For example, “What could we have done differently to achieve a better result?”

Strategies for Improving Bad Questions

  1. Reframe Leading Questions: Transform leading questions into open-ended inquiries. Instead of asking, “Don’t you think our current strategy is outdated?” ask, “What are your thoughts on our current strategy?”
  2. Expand Closed-Ended Questions: Convert closed-ended questions into ones that require elaboration. Rather than asking, “Did you complete the project?” ask, “Can you walk me through the steps you took to complete the project?”
  3. Specify Vague Questions: Make vague questions more specific to elicit clearer responses. Instead of asking, “What do you think about our company?” ask, “What aspects of our company culture do you find most impactful?”
  4. Remove Assumptions: Frame questions in a neutral manner to avoid assumptions. Instead of asking, “Why are you unhappy with your job?” ask, “How do you feel about your current role and responsibilities?”

Case Studies: Transforming Bad Questions into Good Questions

Case study discussionby Scott Graham (

Case Study 1: Enhancing Team Collaboration

In a tech company, a manager frequently asked, “Why isn’t the team meeting deadlines?” This assumptive question led to defensive responses and failed to uncover the root causes of the issue. By reframing the question to, “What challenges are you facing that impact our deadlines?” the manager encouraged open dialogue and identified several process inefficiencies that were subsequently addressed.

Case Study 2: Driving Innovation

A product development team was often asked, “Is this the best solution we can come up with?” This closed-ended question stifled creativity and led to minimal innovation. By changing the question to, “What alternative solutions can we explore?” the team felt empowered to brainstorm and propose innovative ideas, leading to a breakthrough product.

Case Study 3: Improving Employee Satisfaction

A company conducted an employee survey with the question, “Are you satisfied with your job?” The closed-ended nature of the question resulted in superficial insights. By revising the question to, “What aspects of your job do you find most and least satisfying?” the company gained deeper understanding and made targeted improvements to enhance employee satisfaction.

Expert Opinions on Effective Questioning

Interview with expertby Sam McGhee (

Renowned leadership expert John Maxwell emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions. He states, “Good questions inform, great questions transform.” Similarly, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith advocates for reflective questioning, urging leaders to ask, “What can I do to be a better leader?” These insights underscore the transformative power of effective questioning in leadership.


The ability to spot bad questions and improve them is a critical skill for emerging leaders. By embracing a growth mindset and employing strategies to formulate effective questions, leaders can foster a culture of open dialogue, drive innovation, and promote continuous improvement. As you navigate the complexities of executive roles, remember that the quality of your questions can significantly impact the quality of your leadership.


  1. Recognize the characteristics of bad questions and their impact on leadership.
  2. Adopt a growth mindset to approach questioning with curiosity and openness.
  3. Implement strategies to reframe and improve bad questions.
  4. Learn from case studies and expert opinions to enhance your questioning techniques.
  5. Continuously refine your questioning skills to drive organizational growth and personal development.