8 must know question types for Effective Leaders

“The key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders focus on getting to the right questions where as managers focus on finding solutions to those questions”. Michael Marquardt

How many times have you found yourself wondering over a well placed question?

How challenging and stimulating is it to ponder over or doubt established beliefs and guided by a thoughtful question reach new lands previously unexplored?

You can think of the art of questioning as your compass towards a meaningful and productive answer and result.

Michael Marquardt in the insightful book, Leading With Questions How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, explores this very theme. He posits that leadership is all about asking the right questions.

Let’s look at some basic points he makes that will enable us to become better “questioners” and thus, better leaders.





In general, open ended questions stimulate thought and the overall discussion. Closed ended questions do the opposite.

In Procurement terms you can think of open ended questions closer to what an RFI or an RFP is aiming at and a closed ended questions closer to an RFQ.

Let’s look at an example:

Close Ended: “Did you meet your KPIs?”

Open Ended: “How has our KPI performance been going?”

It is evident that in the close ended version the answer is “Yes” or “No”.

The open ended version allows and welcomes commentary and frees up the dialogue towards constructive and productive interchange of ideas.The use of “why”, “how” or “what do you think about…” aims to structure open ended questions.

We have now moved on from a black and white world (if ever we were living in one).

Currently working on complex concoctions of all shades and colours means that we need to embrace tools that stimulate discussion, employee engagement (see here and here for more on this topic) and allow innovation to thrive (other tools for innovation can be found here and here).



  • what to do

There are various types of open ended questions for us to choose from. The basic ones are listed below:

1) Explorative questions open up new avenues and insights:

Example: Have you explored or thought of………..?

2) Affective questions invite members to share feelings about an issue:

Example: How do you feel about ………?

3) Reflective questions encourage more exploration and elaboration:

Example: You said there are difficulties with your project; what do you think causes these difficulties?

4) Probing questions invite the person or group to go more deeply into a particular issue. Words such as describe, explain, clarify, elaborate or expand aim to do just that.

5) Fresh questions challenge basic assumptions:

Example: Has this ever been tried?

6) Questions that create connections establish a systems perspective:

Example: What are the consequences of these actions?

7) Analytical questions examine causes and not just symptoms:

Example: Why has this happened?

8) Clarifying questions help free us from ambiguity:

Example: What specifically do you mean by that?



what not to do

1) Closed Questions call for a specific answer, either yes or no, or calls for the respondent to select an answer from a limited range of choices. Closed questions often begin with what, when, or how many, or ask the respondent to agree or disagree with a statement.

Example: Do you like black or white?

2) Leading questions are those that force or encourage the person or group to respond in the way intended by the questioner.

Example: Were you at the meeting with Bob last night?

A non-Leading example would have been: Where were you last night?



Continuous improvement and radical change relies on good and bold questions been asked.

Coming back to Procurement and Contract Management, results in a recent IACCM study,show that 88% of Contract Management professionals believe that improvement of the quality of the Requirements specifications was the number one factor to improve contract performance in their organisations (see here).

Imagine if the above tool of well placed and well thought of questions was used to clarify and specify Requirements Specifications for our RFx. 

How much better the Procurement and Contract Management process would then be?



Can you always find what you are looking for? What Heraclitus, Pasteur, Goleman and a recent marketing study posit about the benefits of focus

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind” Louis Pasteur

Wouldn’t it feel strange if you always found what you were looking for? Aren’t there times that it feels like when you are stuck on an issue and something someone says or something you read or see is exactly what you were looking for.

How lucky are you? But is it luck or something else at play here?

I have written before about how ancient philosophical tenets meet modern thinkers (here and here) and in this occasion modern neuroscience.

Reflecting on these notions, serendipity seems suddenly less influenced by luck and more a matter of statistics.

It appears that Heraclitus (the Dark Philosopher), Louis Pasteur (the French chemist and microbiologist) and Daniel Goleman (the writer of Emotional Intelligence) may have had a lot to share on the subject.



“Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that have rude souls” Heraclitus

Heraclitus, the so-called Dark philosopher was a Greek Natural philosopher that lived in the city of Ephesus around the 500 BCE. Most of his work was lost and/or destroyed. We currently have access to only a few fragments of his writings. The most famous phrase attributed to his philosophy is the below:

“Τα Παντα ρει” – “All things pass and nothing stays” (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

Apparently, it cannot be proven that he actually wrote this but it pretty well sums up key tenets of his philosophy.

What is of interest for this blog is a lesser known jewel from his fragments, the one that posits that eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that bear rude souls.

What Heraclitus seems to be suggesting with this tenet is that when we are predisposed to view a situation from a particular perspective we tend to favour a positive or a negative interpretation of stimuli depending on our character, our state of mind and maybe how well we are attuned to ourselves, how well we “know thyselves” (i.e. our “soul”).

Heraclitus was not alone in the view that, the way we interpret things is the key (see here).

For example, imagine you graciously give up your seat on the tram or train (person A) to a person that appears to need it (person B). There may be two responses to this action:

  1. a positive response may be that you (person A) get a “thank you” based on the acknowledgement of your gracious action (from person B) OR
  2. a negative response when e.g. person B perceives this action as if someone is thinking less of his/her capabilities i.e. as if person A is putting them down. So, in this example person B chooses to tell off person A in the most ungracious of ways.

I am sure you can reflect and recall a few such examples when the disposition or attitude allows for a polar opposite interpretation of an action.

Reflecting on Heraclitus’ quotation we can also phrase it as follows:

“Eyes and ears are good witnesses to those that have refined souls”

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur


Similarly minded about the usefulness of focus and attitude was Louis Pasteur (French chemist and microbiologist).

Pasteur was very persistent and enormously successful in the fields of vaccination and the prevention of disease, as well as, his invention of “pasteurisation” which is a technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination. He always tried to find solutions to problems and break new ground.

He focused on finding solutions and this focus appears to have reaped results as the solutions came to him (combined with hard work of course) resulting to his breakthroughs.

Hence, he articulated:

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind”

The two great thinkers do agree that if one is focused on something e.g. an opportunity, a question, a required result to a problem, it is as if the mind consciously and unconsciously seeks the solutions.

When you set your mind to something you usually find a way to succeed.

Solutions are out there, in the combination of things, the re-engineering of processes. Focused attention is sometimes the missing ingredient.

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman

DANIEL GOLEMAN – How Heraclitus and Pasteur were onto something

For me, all of the above was just quite reasonable empirical deductions towards developing a positive attitude in life until I came across Daniel Goleman’s classic book, Emotional Intelligence.

In it, Goleman describes in layman’s terms the different functions of the parts of the brain and in particular the functions of the Limbic system and the Neocortex. The results are surprisingly revealing in support of both the great thinkers.

A Short History of Brain Development:

There are three stages of evolution in the brain:

  • The brainstem (which is the primitive brain) which we share with all other species that may a minimal nervous system. This is where the basic body functions are regulated e.g. breathing.
  • The limbic system (from the word limbus which means “ring”). This is built upon the brainstem and is also called the emotional brain g. when you are overwhelmed by craving or fury (“I can’t think straight”) that’s the limbic system taking over. The limbic system refined two essential tools forhomo sapiens a) learning and b) memory. Key structures of the limbic system that do much of the learning and remembering are:
    1. Amydgala – is the part that does most of the learning and remembering in terms of the emotional flavor of events. The Amygdala is the specialist for emotional matters.
It has been found that if theAmydgala is severed then
      1. We lose recognition of feeling as well feeling about feelings,
      2. Lose the urge to compete and cooperate, have no sense of social order.
      3. Emotion is blunted or absent
      4. Repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have 
known in full awareness
    2. Hyppocampus – is the part that deals with registering and making sense of 
perceptual patterns than with emotional reactions, it provides a keen memory of context (e.g. recognizes the 
differing significance of a bear in the zoo than a bear in the 
backyard) and retains the dry facts whilst the amygdala retains the emotional flavor e.g. hyppocampus – that is your cousin, amygdala – you don’t like her.
  • The Neocortex (also called the thinking brain) evolved as of 100m years ago and is the center that puts together and comprehends what the senses perceive. Strategizing, long-term planning, art, civilization and culture are the successes of the Neocortex.

How do signals get processed?

Sensory signals get processed from the ears and eyes through a structure called the Thalamus, to the Amygdala through a single synapse and at the same time to the Neocortex. The signal reaches the Amydgala at 1/3 of the time it takes to reach the Neocortex. So, the emotional brain begins to respond earlier than the thinking brain.

The usual way for sensory information to be processed is from the eyes and ears through the Thalamus and then to the Neocortex where the signals are put together into objects, as we perceive them. These are then sorted out, recognized for what they are and what they mean. The signal is then sent from the Neocortex to the Limbic system and from there the response is coordinated internally and externally.

The usual way takes precedence if the Amydgala is not aroused by the direct signal for e.g. fear of danger. If the Amydgala is aroused then we instinctively respond to the signals before the Neocortex has a chance to analyse the information.

So, essentially, the Amydgala is a repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have never known about in full awareness.

And this is where it gets very interesting.

LeDoux (Goleman p.18) proposed that the Amydgala’s role in memory explains the “startling experiment in which people acquired a preference for oddly shaped geometric figures that had been flashed at them so quickly that they had no conscious awareness of having seen them at all”.

So, the Amydgala and Hyppocampus, as part of the emotional brain, can be viewed as a subconscious sorting mechanism to the myriad of signals that come through our eyes and ears so, we “choose” to distinguish and pay attention to the ones that are emotionally charged only.

In this way it becomes apparent that if we provide significance and emotional charge to specific things these are registered in the recesses of the Amygdala and the Hyppocampus (in the limbic system) and so, we can distinguish them subconsciously within the sea of signals we encounter everyday.


As reported in The Guardian’s article “Shopper’s eye view of ads that pass us by” as the result of an experiment in marketing conducted in 2005 in the city of London:

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products….. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. ……The experiment, analysed with the help of ID Magasin, the company which developed the device, highlighted both the extent to which individuals are bombarded by commercial images and how adept most have become at screening out advertising messages. The results of our experiment showed that 99% of adverts make little or no impact.

The marketing messages encountered in a day in a metropolis like Melbourne (my home city) cannot be far from this number. So, out of the thousands of brand cues we encounter we tend to recognise and consciously pay attention to just a handful. The above brain mechanism Goleman analysed is the one that allows us to do so.


So, what we choose to focus on and in general our attitude towards things i.e. on whether we perceive challenges or opportunities, on whether we focus on why something would not work rather than how something could work plays a huge role at the cues that our emotional brain selects to display into our consciousness, the things that help us move forward and solve the challenges we encounter.

A healthy attitude and targeted focus on what matters most is thus, keys to developing a productive lifestyle.

6 additional pitfals to avoid during a negotiation: Cognitive Biases

It was Richard Feynman who gave the most profound warning: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Following my post which highlighted the importance of identifying Logical Fallacies and showcased the 6 most prevalent ones with practical examples, I feel that it is time to also  touch upon another significant field that can become a pitfall in a negotiation, that of “cognitive bias”.

Read on if you want to find out and become conscious of 6 prevalent tendencies to self-deceive yourself by restricting into thinking in a particular way i.e. fall a victim of cognitive biases.

Gaining consciousness of this “bad reasoning” will assist to identify them and so, improve your negotiation skills.


Do you see a duck or a rabbit?


Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses.

As per the Webster’s Dictionary (Consice Encyclopedia)

“Cognition includes every mental process that may be described as an experience of knowing (including perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning), as distinguished from an experience of feeling or of willing”.

So, a cognitive bias is a tendency to commit certain errors in the process of reasoning.

How is this different to a Logical Fallacy?

“A [Logical] fallacy is an actual mistake in reasoning. A cognitive bias is a tendency to commit certain sorts of mistakes. Not all fallacies are the result of cognitive biases, and having a cognitive bias doesn’t guarantee that you’ll commit the corresponding error”. AskPhilosopher’s


There are many cognitive biases (see list here).

The below 6 form a useful reference list of some fairly common ones that you can identify even on a daily basis:

1) Forer Effect or Barnum Effect 

This describes the effect when individuals believe that general enough statements that could apply to a wide range of people are supposedly specifically tailored for them.

This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of e.g. astrology as well as, some types of personality tests.

Below is a interesting video highlighting how this effect works:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.59.33 pm

2) Bandwagon effect

The tendency to do (or believe) things because they are popular at the time. This is also known as herd mentality or groupthink.

Examples can be found in politics and consumer behaviour. Look at how the “cool” product, a popular leader or the latest fad attracts consumers – until the next one comes along. For example:

A political party holds a rousing rally, with music, speeches and much cheering. Those who go are encouraged to ‘keep the faith’ and ‘bring others on board’ and otherwise keep the bandwagon going. (changingminds.org)

Popular diets, popular books and popular “5 step to success” schemes may fall in this category.

3) Framing effect

Drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented.

“This course of action has a 20 percent failure rate,” few managers would approve. When that same solution is presented as having an 80 percent success rate, the same manager is going to consider it more deeply—even though a 20 percent failure rate means the same thing as an 80 percent success rate! The frame changes the decision’.” Stever Robbins – The Path to Critical Thinking

4) Pareidolia

This is a psychological phenomenon during which vague and/or random stimuli (often an image or sound) are perceived as significant.

e.g. seeing a face in the clouds, the face on mars, and hearing non-existent hidden messages on white noise or on records played in reverse.


5) Stereotyping

This is the expectation that a member of an ethnic, religious, geographic, gender or other group has certain characteristics just because they belong to that group, without having more information about this person.

As an example:

What comes to mind when you hear the word economist? Probably a male figure of some sort.

Substitute the word “economist” for “nurse”, “teacher”, “scientist” or “doctor”.

Well, there you have it.

6) Halo effect

The “what is beautiful is good” effect.

The Halo effect describes the tendency we have to form perceptions of one’s personality (or other characteristics) based on a particular likeable or unlikable element such as the person’s physical attractiveness.

“One great example of the halo effect in action is our overall impression of celebrities. Since we perceive them as attractive, successful, and often likeable, we also tend to see them as intelligent, kind and funny”. (psychology.about)

The above six cognitive biases are just a small sample of the wide variety of bad reasoning out there. However, these are a good start on the journey to establishing integrity in thinking towards a successful negotiation.

How many of them can you identify in your daily interactions?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

“The rabbit–duck illusion is an ambiguous image in which a rabbit or a duck can be seen….. The image was made famous by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who included it in his Philosophical Investigations as a means of describing two different ways of seeing: seeing that/seeing as”.

How to perform a mid-year Procurement review!

Constant reviews are part of every effective system. As Peter Drucker mentioned, every so often, it is crucial to do the “Feedback Analysis” in three steps:

1. Whenever you take a key decision or action, write down what you expect to happen.
2. Review results at regular intervals and compare them with expectations.
3. Use this feedback as a guide and road to reinforce strengths and eliminate weaknesses.

                                                                                                                         Peter Drucker

The end of the Financial year (in Australia) and reaching the mid-calendar year point in other parts of the world, makes for a great opportunity to review the progress made so far, look afresh at your personal, team and/or departmental KPIs and goals for the year and review any new opportunities that may have come up.

Having an appraisal review once a year may have been effective in previous generations but not in the modern post-GFC fast paced marketspace.

Read on if you want to learn about a scheme for performing a General review and a comprehensive checklist to go through during a Procurement specific one.


Alexander Knight


So, utilise the One-on-One meetings (or other frameworks, some of which I mentioned here and here) sit down with your staff and/or book a meeting room for a space free of distractions and revisit:

  1. Your KPIs
  2. Your team’s or department’s KPIs
  3. Opportunities that may have come up
  4. Challenges that have occurred
  5. Projects in development that may need your contribution or that you can contribute to.



Especially, for Procurement, there is a more specific list of things to do.

As Richard Waugh, VP of Corporate Development at Zycus, mentioned in his recent post titled “Spring Cleaning time in the Procurement household:A Checklist” in spendmatters.com below are some key areas every Procurement professional should look into.

Based on the article I put together a checklist which I thought I’d share. For more information please refer to Richard’s article which makes a compelling read:



  1. Look for contracts that have expired or are due to do so soon. Update your Contract calendar.
  2. Review at least one auto-renewal of an evergreen agreement.
  3. Look for maintenance agreements on long discarded assets or not used software licenses. 
  4. Review that rebate provisions are up to date.

Spend Analysis

  1. Refresh your spend data to evaluate changes in spending patterns.
  2. Analyze for purchase price variance i.e. paying different prices for the same item.
  3. Analyze for Payment Term Rationalization – standardizing on contracted payment terms with preferred vendors.
  4. Look for Supplier Rationalization opportunities i.e. root out “supplier creep”

Supplier Management

  1. Look for duplicate and inactive vendors in your vendor database.
  2. Ensure that insurance, quality, diversity, or other certifications are up-to-date.
  3. Update the Supplier segmentation matrix (categories: strategic, critical, important or tactical).
  4. Ensure Supplier Managers are allocated to strategic, critical and important suppliers.

Category Management/Sourcing

  1. Review category strategies taking into account commodity price trends and forecasts.
  2. Look for opportunities of hedging through longer term contracts where price increases are projected.

Performance Management

  1. Refresh your scorecard including value offered by Procurement and Contract Management in recent gains in “spend under management, realized cost savings, increased user adoption, cycle time reduction, contract compliance, supplier enablement” etc.
  2. Benchmark your performance against the market. 


Image courtesy of Alexander Kaiser, pooliestudios.com / www.flickr.com