The four types of questions leaders should be asking

As leaders progress through their organizations, they face a problem as old as the Socratic paradox: they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s an easy trap to fall into because strong leaders ask a lot of questions, but as their role changes the questions they ask need to change as well, but they often don’t.
4 min.
May 2021

It’s not enough to simply ask open questions and follow up questions, for leaders to avoid the knowledge trap they need to consider the mix of questions they ask. 

IMD Professors of Strategy Arnaud Chevallier and Frédéric Dalsace identified four types of questions that you should be asking based on behavioral science research and interviews with top executives:

  • productive questions, to pace the decision making,
  • analytical questionsto address root cause and find granular solutions 
  • creative questions, to fuel innovative thinking and solutions
  • sensemaking questions, to develop insight and keep momentum

“We think that the types of questions each use is the result of our individual trajectories. In other words, we each grow into asking some questions more than others,” says Chevallier.

“But maybe this path-dependent process can be improved,” says Dalsace. “Have you ever thought about which question you ask and which question you use? What happens if you don’t ask some questions?”.

Successful executives often underutilize at least one type of question causing blind spots that can lead to an incomplete picture. While there is no perfect balance of a questions mix, all leaders should be asking at least some questions from each category. It is therefore important to step back and evaluate whether you are doing this.

The good news is most executives have found that once they evaluated their question mix and identified weak spots, it has been pretty easy to improve upon it, either individually or as a team.


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