You may or may not be happy to know Harvard Business Review (HBR) is still at it. That’s right. The venerable publication seems hell-bent on retaining its status as the business world’s most prestigious purveyor of puerile palaver and preposterous prattle. More power to it. The rest of us have sense to make.

Perhaps, then, as an exercise in sense-making, we might take a look at this — “5 Questions Leaders Should Be Asking All the Time” — with an eye toward rendering it coherent. And to be sporting about it, we’ll only look that this short excerpt:

Asking a good question is not an easy task. It requires us to look beyond simple solutions and to encourage colleagues to do the same. It requires courage and tact, to generate hard questions without sparking defensiveness, as well as being open to new ideas and to questioning untested assumptions.

The uneasiness of asking a good question would depend on (a) the person of whom we’re asking the question, (b) the situation being questioned or (c) the answer to the question, would it not?

Granting that encouraging colleagues is a critical element of leadership, why would we ask questions that require courage and tact or that might incite defensiveness? Wouldn’t it be more amenable, if not more fair, to offer a constructive suggestion, rather than to hang someone out to dry for the answer to what might be (perceived as) a trick question? Should I have summoned up some courage and tact before I asked that one?

In any case, here are the five questions the article says ostensible leaders should allegedly be asking all the time.

  1. “Wait, What?”
  2. “I wonder why …?”  or “I wonder if …?” (Okay. Six questions. Apparently, there was a tie here or the good folks at HBR only wanted to count with the fingers on one hand.)
  3. “Couldn’t we at least …?”
  4. “How can I help?”
  5. “What truly matters?”

If those don’t get you efficiently on the track to unencumbered productivity, here are five more, along with the situational contexts in which they’re best asked:

  1. “Are you for real?” This question can be safely used in situations in which the person being asked already knows he’s a bonehead.
  2. “Is this a joke?” If you know the person you’re questioning is a bonehead, but you’re not sure he knows it, use this one.
  3. “How did you get in here?” In circumstances so flabbergasting they inspire a flash of terror about the entirety of your HR (sorry, People Services) practices, this is the one.
  4. “Do you have a gun?” To break the tension, consider adding a little levity by following the question with this: “If so, I hope I remember to shoot you first.”
  5. “WTF?” This abbreviation stands for … well … you know. It should only be used in circumstances so stupefyingly inexplicable that even a gun won’t help.

Since we’re supposed to be asking questions here, rather than making declarative statements, we’ll take a cue from Jeopardy and put this suggestion in the form of a question: Do you think it would help if the folks at HBR got out more?

Just a thought.

Image by geralt, courtesy of