What do you mean by this? Why is this here? Questions rise up, clarify

Question authority. Question your coworkers too.  Ask questions to achieve clarity and goals and solutions. Ask questions even if you’re the big boss – and especially if you’re a leader managing a team of exceptional specialists.

That’s the theme from my first story for Fortune.com , which is online this week. (I’ve written for Fortune magazine for almost a year – my latest piece on invisible promotions was out in early February.)

The story was prompted partly by a handful of business books that encourage more active questioning to achieve better ideas. Among them Brainsteering by  Kevin P. And Shawn T. Coyne; The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and especially Seven Strategy Questions by Robert Simons, which inspired my Fortune.com story.

His questions are really intended for the brass at companies with hundreds of employees – not freelance writers who run a small seasonal ice cart to give teens jobs. But I still like two of them in particular: “How committed are your employees to helping each other? ” and “What critical performance variables are you tracking?” Simons, a professor at Harvard Business School, said the questions can lead to making great choices and a clearer shared vision and strategy for success.

I like that notion – for myself, my little company, Mity Nice and every leader. But I wrote the piece also as a visible reminder of the importance of curiosity for every career, from janitor to genius. After all, Albert Einstein said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

My curiosity almost never leaves me, and as a journalist it is an essential piece of whatever success I achieve. Here’s a small sampling of my favorite questions:

  • What are you the best at? Where can you really shine?
  • Why is that? Why is it important?
  • Please put that in context for me. What’s the trendline / back story?
  • Who else do I need to talk to to get the full story?
  • So what else do I need to know about this subject?

Of course, I love many of the questions posed by people inIn particular I listen to Nancy Hickey, chief administrative officer at Steelcase and her “If I had a magic wand to solve this problem, what would you like me to do with it?”

Maybe the magic wand is using great questions to delve deep into each other’s expertise and problem-solving abilities. How does that sound to you?

So what questions do you ask at work and at home that make you more effective or engaging? And how do you use questions as a worthwhile tool your job? What’s the one question you ask all the time?