Asking Life’s Questions

I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not when the wife of the CEO of a publicly traded company, where I have served as an executive coach exclaimed, “You are like a reporter, you are so inquisitive!!”

“Oh dear,” I thought. And I was just being myself at this dinner at their vacation home. Years earlier, I had been told this same observation from an entrepreneur who I was set up with on a lunch date; he decided to hire my firm instead. At least he thought my inquiring mind would add value to launching his latest venture…

They didn’t realize, that in my early professional years, I had begun training. While working in marketing for Sports Illustrated by day, I was an aspiring journalist, a freelance writer taking investigative journalism class, by night.

Decades ago, Fortune published a highly accurate feature about my secretive employer, Bain & Company. I was impressed with the depth of the reporting, given how Bainees spoke in code names and guarded client confidentiality to the extreme. I invited the reporter to lunch to learn how she was so adept at her trade.

I thought being a business reporter at Fortune would be a perfect fit and soon found myself in the office of the deputy chief of reporters, with my pitch ready. After telling her a bit about myself, I shared that I wanted to work for her instead of matriculating to Harvard Business School. My dream of becoming a journalist was quickly shattered when she exclaimed, “Go make the news, don’t write about it, go to HBS!” and kicked me out of her office.

After training in Fortune 500 companies and then holding executive roles at several emerging growth technology companies, I started my own business and have gone full circle back to being a management consultant.

And in recent years, I reached back out to that Fortune journalist to gain advice on how I could continue this virtuous cycle and write once again. Pattie Sellers had since risen up the ranks of Fortune into editorial leadership roles. She co-founded the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit where she asks thoughtful questions in interviewing the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. Pattie knows the right questions to ask.

Then recently, I learned from Tal Ben-Shahar, who created the most popular course in Harvard history, on Positive Psychology, that what separates the successful from the most successful is curiosity and asking questions. And that questions have the power to create our realities.

As a consultant, I am paid to have the right answers. To reach these informed recommendations, we gather a great deal of data, including a discovery process, that involves asking a broad range of questions to internal stakeholders as well as customers, prospects and lost deals.

When we added executive coaching as one of my firm’s offerings, I found myself asking more questions, pointed questions for clients to ponder. My coachees are to discover the answers. After all, you are your own best teacher. We are paid to ask the right questions.

I was recently contacted by a NYC casting company regarding my interest in serving as a corporate spokesperson in a photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz who is partnering with UBS for their campaign “Asking Life’s Big Questions.” I immediately appreciated the sagacity behind their theme.

ASSIGNMENT: In pondering the power of asking the right questions, in your meetings this coming week, observe how much you listen and what questions you then ask. What reaction do you get to your questions? What answers are then discovered?

Grace Ueng  is continuing her virtuous cycle by writing in addition to speaking/teachingcoaching and consulting. She is CEO of Savvy Growth.

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