Just Ask Leadership

Just Ask Leadership:

Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”  James Thurber

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”  Jonas Salk

According to a survey CO2 conducted, 95% of leaders preferred to be asked questions rather than told what to do. But these same leaders give instructions 58% of the time rather than ask. If you want to lead and motivate others, questions are the answer. If we tell our coworkers how to do their jobs, we are essentially limiting their options and stifling their initiative. We’re not leading.

In his brilliant leadership development book Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, successful business entrepreneur and leadership coaching guru Gary B. Cohen reveals the questions that leaders need to know and use. These questions will help leaders and their organizations:

  • Improve Vision
  • Ensure Accountability
  • Build Unity and Cooperation
  • Create Better Decisions; and
  • Motivate to Action

When he set out to write his groundbreaking Just Ask Leadership book, Gary didn’t presume to have all the answers or all the best questions. He asked over 100 fascinating leaders from companies of all sizes and types how they used questions to lead. This book is the product of their input and contains stories of how and when to use their best questions.

Just Ask Leadership models the philosophy used in all CO2 services and by all CO2 coaches. We don’t tell you what to do. We ask questions that will help you decide how to lead yourself, coworkers, organization, and society.

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Reader Reviews & Response

While I honestly wasn’t conscious of it, Gary’s notion of ‘leading by asking’ nicely captures my own style. This approach creates a more collegial attitude, it opens dialogue and shows respect for those who are closer to and have responsibility for the issues. In many cases it is also appropriate because each generation seems to be smarter than the last. As a tool, Gary’s book can raise everyone’s awareness of the social and intellectual power of asking rather than telling.

Tom Pritzker | Chairman & CEO, Hyatt Corporation


‘Ask, Don’t Tell’ applies to schools as well as businesses. Administrators can empower teachers and teachers can empower students simply by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions.

Arne Duncan | U.S. Secretary of Education


Gary Cohen’s “Just Ask” approach to leadership made me question my own habit of ‘leading by example.’ Is it not more proactive to lead by provoking a response instead of requesting a spectator? And, is it not ultimately more productive by reacting to new solutions instead of judging redundancies?

Vance Van Petten | Executive Director, PGA


For innovative thinking and getting a new slant on an old problem, Gary Cohen is incomparable. He brings his rich background in growing a business and transforming it and himself to everything he does.

Marcy Syms | CEO, Syms Corporation

JUST ASK LEADERSHIP details specific questions to pose in particular situations while also explaining how to create a culture of question-based leadership. In this insightful leadership development book, Cohen addresses five critical areas:

  • Improve Vision — Gaining Insight from All Levels of the Organization. Vision starts with an awareness of values. Questions can illuminate the values of both the leader and the organization. This, in turn, will enable good choices with regard to interacting with customers, hiring new employees, setting goals, and succession planning. Vision is also the bridge to the future. “Climb to the top of the mast and scan the sea for opportunities and threats,” writes Cohen. “Then ask forward-leaning questions that others may be reluctant to voice.”
  • Ensure Accountability — Increasing Team and Organization-Wide Performance. Having coworkers solve their own problems is critical to building their accountability, says Cohen. Leaders must encourage people to act and, provided good-faith action is taken, failure must be used as an opportunity for learning, not an excuse for punishment. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP reveals how to give employees maximum latitude, thereby encouraging them to take initiative and be increasingly capable of taking on more challenging work.
  • Build Unity and Cooperation — Creating a Culture of Trust. To unify an organization made up of vastly different individuals, leaders must invite coworkers to share their opinions and listen well to their input. This requires asking good questions—those that house the potential for growth and collaboration—not “gotcha” questions. Cohen shows how to move coworkers forward when they are “stuck,” helping them to reach their own solutions, and also addresses such issues as using the right tone, how to be more present in conversations and improve listening, and why it is critical to show respect for the input one receives.
  • Create Better Decisions — Getting the Right Answers by Asking the Right Questions. Most leaders make too many decisions, says Cohen. “If you don’t routinely ask, ‘whose decision is it?’ you’ll fall into the trap of doing others’ work,” he writes. The best decisions are often made by those down the chain of command, not up. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP details how to direct decision making to the appropriate party, seek clarification, and provide solutions when appropriate.
  • Motivate to Action — Asking for Success. “Because I said so” is not a phrase that will inspire coworkers. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP offers insights into how to motivate people by building rapport, customizing incentives, and instilling respect. Cohen’s tactics include creating a sense of urgency, appealing to people’s desire to be remembered, finding new points of leverage, and energizing coworkers by using shared responses—such as asking a group to say, “Agree,” after consensus is reached.

Throughout the book, Cohen illustrates his insights with stories from some of the country’s best leaders. For example, he describes how Mike Harper, former CEO of ConAgra, asked the quality control inspectors on his bacon packaging line what would happen if they didn’t do their jobs well. The inspectors played out scenarios including customers becoming ill, potential lawsuits, and bad word of mouth. So when Harper then asked, “You know you have the most important job in the plant, right?” these inspectors knew he meant it. Harper’s questions ensured that his coworkers knew the significance of their work.

“If we tell coworkers how to do their jobs, we are essentially limiting their options and stifling their initiative,” writes Cohen. “We’re not leading. Questions aren’t just about not knowing the answers—they lead to fresh ideas, committed action, and the creation of a new rank of leaders.” The JUST ASK LEADERSHIP book gives leaders at all levels the tools they need to empower and motivate coworkers by asking the right questions, the right way.

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