Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life

by Marilee G. Adams, Marshall Goldsmith

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What questions lead to our biggest breakthroughs and successes? In this new and revised third edition, Marilee Adams describes how questions shape our thinking and how personal and organizational problems can often be traced to the kinds of questions we ask.
Drawing on decades of research and experience as a coach and consultant, Adams uses a highly instructive and entertaining story that illustrates how to quickly recognize any undermining questions that pop into your mind--or out of your mouth—and reframe them to achieve amazingly positive and practical results. The book's informative Choice Map helps guide you through this Question Thinking process. The result? More effective communication, greater collaboration, and highly effective solutions to problems in any situation.
Change Your Questions, Change Your Life is an international bestseller whose global reputation has spread largely through word of mouth. The extensively revised third edition includes a new introduction and epilogue and two powerful new tools that show how Question Thinking can dramatically improve coaching and leadership. This entertaining, step-by-step book can make a life-transforming difference—it already has for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Great results really do begin with great questions. Marilee Adams's clear instructions show you how!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626566354
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 01/11/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 241,992
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Marilee Adams, PhD, is president and CEO of the Inquiry Institute and the originator of the Question Thinking methodologies. She is an adjunct professor of leadership at American University’s School of Public Affairs and presents the Question Thinking system in a wide variety of organizational, educational, health-care and public settings.
Marshall Goldsmith is the million-selling author or editor of 31 books, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers,MOJO and What Got You Here Won't Get You There.

Read an Excerpt

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life

By Marilee Adams

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Marilee Adams, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62656-635-4


Moment of Truth

If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole new world of new questions.

Susanne K. Langer

A rosewood paperweight on my desk bears a sterling silver plaque declaring: Great results begin with great questions. It was a gift from a very special person in my life — Joseph S. Edwards — who introduced me to Question Thinking, or QT, as he called the skills he taught me. QT opened up a part of my mind that otherwise I might never have discovered. Like everyone else, I believed the way to fix a problem was to look for the right answers. Instead, Joseph showed me that the best way to solve a problem is to first come up with better questions. The skills he taught me rescued my career and saved my marriage as well. Both were definitely in trouble at the time.

It all started when I was invited to take a position at QTec. The company was in the midst of a major overhaul at the time, and the word on the street was that, barring a miracle, they would fold before the year was out. A friend warned me that accepting a position with QTec would be like signing up to crew on a sinking ship. What convinced me to take the risk? It was my trust in Alexa Harte, the recently appointed CEO at QTec, who'd offered me the position. I'd worked with her for years at KB Corp., my previous employer, where she'd won my respect as a gifted leader. Her confidence about turning QTec around was infectious. Besides, she promised me a great promotion: hefty pay raise, impressive title, and a chance to lead a team in developing an innovative new product. If everything went well the risk would pay off in aces. If not ... well, I tried not to think about that.

At first I was riding high, convinced I had the job wired. Alexa had hired me for my technology and engineering smarts, and I knew I could deliver on that count. The new product really intrigued me, and the technical challenges were right up my alley. At KB — where Alexa said she'd seen me work miracles — I'd won accolades as the Answer Man. I'd faced down the toughest technical problems, one right after the other. However, at QTec I was also facing a different kind of challenge — heading up a high-stakes, high-visibility team. I was excited about taking this on, although Alexa had let me know I'd have to put effort into developing my people and leadership skills.

My team seemed an enthusiastic and talented bunch, and for a while everything went well. Then life at QTec started unraveling. It was as if suddenly a glaring spotlight was focused on my shortcomings. I didn't dare say it, but secretly I concluded I'd been stuck with a bunch of losers.

To make matters worse, there was Charles. Before I came aboard at QTec he'd been passed over for the job I'd been offered. I could understand why he might resent me. And, just as I expected, he was a real troublemaker from the word go, questioning everything I said and did.

Things went from bad to worse. If the QTec ship wasn't actually sinking, as my friend had warned me was happening, it was definitely taking on water, and I had no idea how to plug up the leaks. My team meetings became a farce — no discussions, no solutions, and no sense of teamwork. And nobody had to remind me that if we couldn't get our product to market before the competition, we would prove the naysayers right.

Life wasn't much better at home. Tension was growing with Grace, my wonderful wife of less than eight months. She constantly asked me about what was going on at work. Finally, one day I just told her she was asking too many questions and she should keep her nose out of my business. She was hurt, I was miserable, and I hadn't the vaguest idea what to do about it.

I didn't want Grace to know how much difficulty I was having. I'd always taken great pride in solving problems that baffled everyone else. This time, with any luck, the right answers would turn up before Grace, Alexa, and the people on my team found out that the job was way over my head. Meanwhile I kept more and more to myself and did my best to just get through each day.

I was mystified and overwhelmed. It seemed like everything in my life was falling apart. Then came the awful turning point. Grace and I had an argument in the morning, and only hours later there was a major crisis at work. Nobody said it, but I could see it in their eyes: we were cooked.

This was my moment of truth. I needed to be alone and face facts. I called Grace and left a message that I'd be putting in an all-nighter to finish an important report. Then I spent the whole long night in my office, staring at the walls, still searching desperately for the right answers and reliving the most disastrous weeks of my life. I told myself I had to face the truth: I had failed. Just after six that morning I went out for coffee and then started drafting my resignation. I finished three hours later, called Alexa, and made arrangements to see her immediately.

The walk to Alexa's suite was less than a hundred yards. That morning it felt like a hundred miles. When I got to the big double doors of her office I stopped and took a deep breath to regain my composure. I stood there for some long moments, working up the nerve to knock. Just as I was raising my arm, I heard a voice behind me.

"Ben Knight, you're here. Good, good!"

It was Alexa. There was no mistaking that voice, always cheerful, exuding a sense of optimism even when things were going badly. An attractive, athletic-looking woman in her late 40s, she radiated confidence. I'd told Grace that I'd never met anyone quite like Alexa. She approached her responsibilities at QTec with boundless enthusiasm. It wasn't that she didn't take her job seriously. She took it very seriously! And she did it with such pleasure and self-assurance that she made it look easy.

At that moment, her mere presence made me acutely aware of my deficiencies. I felt numb, barely mumbling a subdued good morning as she touched my shoulder and ushered me into her office.

The room was expansive, the size of a large living room in the best executive home. I crossed deep green carpeting, soft underfoot, and walked over to the large bay window where the meeting area was set up. There, two overstuffed sofas faced each other across a large walnut coffee table.

"Sit!" Alexa said, gesturing in a welcoming way to one of the couches." Betty said your lights were on when she left her office at seven-thirty last night, and you were here when she came in early this morning."

She sat down across from me on the other couch.

"I presume that's for me?" Alexa asked, pointing to the green folder containing my resignation that I'd placed on the coffee table.

I nodded, waiting for her to pick it up. Instead, she leaned back, looking as if she had all the time in the world.

"Tell me what's going on with you," she said.

I pointed to the green folder. "It's my resignation. I'm sorry, Alexa."

The next sound I heard stopped me cold. It was not a gasp, not a word of reproach, but laughter! It was not cruel laughter, either. What had I missed? I didn't understand. How could Alexa still sound sympathetic in the face of all I'd screwed up?

"Ben," she said, "you're not going to quit on me." She slid the folder in my direction. "Take this back. I know more about your situation than you realize. I want you to give me at least a few months. But for that period of time, you've got to commit to making changes."

"Are you sure about this?" I asked, dumbfounded.

"Let me answer you this way," she continued. "Many years ago, I was in a situation similar to yours. I had to face facts. If I wanted to be successful I'd need to make some fundamental changes. I was pretty desperate. A man by the name of Joseph sat me down and asked some straightforward questions, simple ones on the surface. But those questions opened doors I never even knew existed. He asked, 'Are you willing to take responsibility for your mistakes — and for the attitudes and actions that led to them?' Then he said, 'Are you willing — however begrudgingly — to forgive yourself, and even laugh at yourself?' And finally, 'Will you look for value in your experiences, especially the most difficult ones?' Bottom line: 'Are you willing to learn from what happened and make changes accordingly?'"

She went on to tell me how Joseph's work with her, and the methods he had developed over the years, had changed not only her life but her husband Stan's as well." Stan has more than tripled his net worth in the past few years. He attributes the success he and his company enjoy today to what Joseph taught him. Joseph will probably tell you all about it. He loves to tell stories, especially ones about how people's lives were changed by changing their questions."

I must have looked perplexed because she added, "Don't worry about what I mean by questions that change people's lives. You'll learn about that soon enough." She paused. Then, in carefully measured words, she said, "I want you to work with my friend Joseph, starting immediately. I'm sure he'll want to meet with you over a period of time. Figure out the schedule with him. This is top priority now."

"What is he, a therapist?" The idea of seeing a shrink made me nervous.

Alexa smiled. "No, he's an executive coach. I call him an inquiring coach."

Inquiring coach! If I knew anything at all, it was that I needed answers, not more questions. How could more questions possibly benefit me or pull me out the hole I was in?

As I was getting ready to leave, Alexa jotted something down on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. "Inside this envelope is a prediction I've made," she said mysteriously, handing it to me. "Put it in that green folder of yours and don't open it until you've completed your work with Joseph and I tell you it's the time to open it." Then she gave me Joseph's business card. I turned it over. There was a big question mark on the other side. It really irritated me. The idea that I'd be spending valuable time with a man whose logo was a question mark went against everything I believed.

Back in my own office, I collapsed in the chair behind my desk. My eyes fell on a small gilded frame on the wall. It held a saying, just two words long: Question everything! It was a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. Many rooms at QTec contained a framed placard exactly like this one. As much as I respected and appreciated Alexa's leadership, this message had always been a point of contention for me. Everybody knows that leaders should have answers, not questions.

My eyes were fixed on Joseph's card with the question mark on the back. What had I gotten myself into? Only time would tell. At least I could put off my decision to resign. My attention shifted to Grace. How was I ever going to smooth things over with her? At that moment there was only one thing to be grateful for — Alexa hadn't asked about Grace and me. I think that would have been the last straw. I knew Alexa was fond of my wife — she'd even come to our wedding. She wouldn't have been happy to find out we were having trouble.

I sat there for a long time just staring at Joseph's card. The fact that Alexa had refused to accept my resignation offered a little hope. I was encouraged that she would refer me to her own mentor — even though the jury was still out on whether her trust in me was justified. Still, I had nothing to lose by keeping an appointment with this inquiring coach guy. Besides, even though I was skeptical, I was also curious. If this Joseph guy had helped Alexa and Stan so much, maybe he had answers that would help me, too.


A Challenge Accepted

What got you here won't get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith

My appointment with Joseph S. Edwards was at ten the next morning. I didn't tell Grace about this meeting or about my conversation with Alexa. And I certainly didn't tell her about writing my resignation. Admitting I was in trouble had never come easily. I preferred working things out on my own. For some time now I'd been stonewalling Grace and feeling more and more resentful about her constant questions about what was going on with me. Until I found the right answers and solutions I was determined to tough it out and keep my problems to myself. But as usually happened with Grace, I wasn't so good at hiding my problems.

I should have realized that she knew something more than the usual job stress was bothering me. That morning, on our way to the airport, where Grace was catching a plane for a lunch meeting in another city, she brought things to a head. As I pulled up to the curb at the terminal, she told me, "I've been feeling like a widow lately. You've been so distant and moody. Ben, if you want a real partnership with me, you're going to have to make some changes."

God knows I love Grace but I wasn't in the best of moods.

"I don't need this right now," I told her, more harshly than I intended.

Grace looked stunned. I got out of the car to get her briefcase from the trunk. As I handed it to her our eyes met, and for a moment I was afraid she was going to cry. I knew it wasn't right leaving her like that, but I was feeling pushed. Besides, if I got dragged into a long discussion, I'd be late for my appointment with Joseph. Our little problem would have to wait. Grace forced a smile, told me she'd be back that night but not to worry about picking her up. She'd get a taxi home. She turned and quickly disappeared into the crowd.

I was angry. Why did she have to choose this particular morning to pick a fight? I hit the accelerator and pulled out into traffic. Horns blasted. I slammed on my brakes as some maniac raced by, barely missing me. I was fuming. Between that near collision, the conflict with Grace, and having to attend a meeting I dreaded, my morning was off to a very bad start.

Joseph's office was in the Pearl Building downtown, a 14-story edifice constructed in the 1930s and recently restored. Old Town, as we called the area, was a bustling shopping center with great places to eat and drink, and unusual little stores. Grace and I often had dinner there, at a small place called the Metropol. Grace is an art lover, and she'd opened up a whole new world I'd hardly known existed. Thanks to her, we'd spent many happy hours together, browsing through bookstores and art galleries. Passing our familiar haunts that morning, I worried about what the future held for us.

I pushed open the polished brass-framed doors at the Pearl Building, crossed the marble floors, and caught an elevator to Joseph's penthouse office. I stepped into a large foyer that looked like someone's private residence. Several tall ficus trees reached up toward a large skylight.

Beyond this private anteroom, a double set of doors opened invitingly to a long hallway. On the walls hung some kind of artwork. I remember thinking that Grace would enjoy seeing this.

"You must be Ben Knight!" Joseph Edwards strode toward me enthusiastically. I judged him to be in his early 60s, though he moved like an agile sprinter a quarter that age. No more than 5 feet 9, he was dressed casually, wearing an outrageous knit sweater with a myriad of striped patterns that dazzled the eye. He was not at all like I'd expected.

Joseph's smooth-shaven face glowed with good humor. His brown eyes sparkled with almost childlike excitement. Atop his head, a wild array of woolly white curls reminded me of photos I'd seen of Albert Einstein in his later years.

Joseph's warm welcome dissolved some of my reservations about spending time with him. He led me down the hallway to his office, explaining as we went that the walls displayed "some artifacts I call my Question Thinking Hall of Fame." What I had at first mistaken for pictures were actually framed magazine articles and letters. I didn't get a good look at them. We turned left into a large room bathed in the morning sunlight.

The room contained comfortable seating, a well-used brick fireplace, and a walnut conference table with matching chairs. One wall displayed certificates and a few dozen autographed photos, many with their subjects shaking hands with Joseph. In the pictures I recognized faces I'd seen in the news over the years. Alexa hadn't quite prepared me for this. Joseph was obviously very well connected in the business world and beyond.

I also saw covers of three different books displayed in elegant frames. They were all written by Joseph. Each had the words Question Thinking in the title. One in particular caught my eye. It was coauthored with a Sarah Edwards and was about inquiring marriages.

I was impressed but also intimidated. We entered a less formal room, where I felt slightly more comfortable. Windows on three sides afforded a spectacular view of the city. In the distance, wispy clouds were lifting from the woods. The views seemed to stretch on forever.


Excerpted from Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. Copyright © 2015 Marilee Adams, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith
Introduction: Questions for Change
1. Moment of Truth
2. A Challenge Accepted
3. The Choice Map
4. We're All Recovering Judgers
5. Kitchen Talk
6. Switching Questions
7. See with New Eyes, Hear with New Ears
8. Learner Teams and Judger Teams
9. When the Magic Works
10. Q-Storming to the Rescue
11. Amour! Amour!
12. The Bottom Line
Epilogue: The Inquiring Leader
Graphics and Charts
Question Thinking Workbook

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