Asking the Right Question

By | October 7, 2021

[October 6, 2021]  A few years ago, I sat in a room full of Army Generals and was feeling exasperated by the fact they were unwilling to push back on the no-defects philosophy of our military.  A 3-star was briefing us about the newest add-on requirements coming down from the Department of Defense.  I asked, partly out of frustration, was “Of all these requirements, which ones do you want us to NOT do?”

He was taken aback at the question because the unspoken agreement was that we would do everything on his long list of new regulations and demands.  I was having none of it.  I would push back.  “Okay,” I said, “If you want us to do all these things, then can you at least tell us what the top three priorities you want to be accomplished?’

This 3-star General, experience and intelligent, couldn’t answer the question.  He was adamant that we had to do them all (impossible, of course).  This is a common tactic when leaders get a bunch of crap shoveled on their plate; they shovel it down to the next guy and hope he can handle the load or keep quiet.  I wasn’t keeping quiet, and I wasn’t about to take a bunch of new requirements without something being taken off my plate as well.

Asking the right question is tied closely with critical thinking because the “art of questioning” is essential to the excellence of thought.  Doing so is a way of seeking the truth and clarity.  Critical thinking provides the method to assess correctly, monitor, analyze, and re-direct our thinking and action.  Good leaders focus on framing specific, disciplined questions to achieve the desired outcome.

In his book, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, John C. Maxwell takes us through the Socratic dialogue format.  We all learned it, and now Maxwell uses it as a sharp tool to get at the heart of urgent social and public policy issues.  This way, Maxwell gets good answers using profound questions that drive confidence, wise decision-making, and clarity of focus.

Maxwell shows how a disciplined and thoughtful question-based approach provides a practical toolbox for the leader and his team.  Maxwell believes that by asking questions, he can also harness the power of every member of his team.  His insights are something that good leaders already know but, maybe, have not developed.

Only by asking the right question will we get the correct answer.


Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Asking the Right Question

  1. DocJeff

    Another great article. Too many of us think, because we’ve been taught that “the only bad question is one not asked.” That is, of course, stupid because you can show your stupidity by asked stupid questions. And, who wants a stupid person to be around? Not me.

  2. Frankie Boy

    Amazing how that works! I’m new here at this leadership website and it looks like a great place for discussion of those things that affect leaders. Glad to be here.

  3. Anya B.

    This is far more important than one might initially think. We often say the dumbest question is the one not asked. Actually that comment is not true. When you ask a question, be sure that it’s a good one.

    1. Audrey

      I enjoyed the article as well and learned a good thing as well. Don’t give up on our youth, despite the Marxism being taught to them in school by clueless teachers.

  4. Lynn Pitts

    Another great article from deep in the bowels of the mind of Gen. Satterfield. Hey, keep up this website, I love it. And, I wish more people would read and understand what we all are gaining from your thoughts.

  5. Max Foster

    Gen. Satterfield, thanks for another on-target article about some of the basics of being a good leader and a good person as well. This is more important than most of us think. I hire a lot of people. During an interview I actually pay little attention to their answers but I pay close attention to those things they ask of me. Is the question inteliigent or just a throw away question for them to say some thing. Just a bit of advice for those interviewing. I know there are a lot of interview suggestions out there but remember what I noted here.

    1. McStompie

      Good point, Max and I can see where you are coming from with your technique. I assume, from what you write, that this is a successful strategy for those you hire into your company.

  6. Greg NH

    One would believe that this is all common sensical but wait, it isn’t and so learn to ask the right question.

  7. DocJeff

    “Garbage in, garbage out,” is a popular truth, often said in relation to computer systems: if you put the wrong information in, you’ll get the wrong information out. The same principle applies to communications in general: if you ask the wrong questions, you’ll probably get the wrong answer, or at least not quite what you’re hoping for.

    1. Dog Man

      Asking questions without thinking about what type of response you’re looking for is setting yourself up for disappointment! Questioning should be somewhat strategic and thought through with intention placed on the language and tone you use. That’s the way to illicit the best response! Ya’ think!

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Asking questions is a talent, just as much as listening.

  8. Greg Heyman

    Reading, writing, thinking, and QUESTIONING. Those are the hallmarks of someone who can do anything they set their mind to doing. Those are the ones who we want with us. Be on the look out for them in your every day affairs.

  9. Stacey Borden

    Asking the “right” questions means that you know how to think and analyze. Valuable traits for an employer.

    1. Silly Man

      Yes, true and I want to put a shout out to Gen. Satterfield for allowing us the freedom to discuss his ideas in an open forum.


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