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May 2011


Change Your Questions Change Your Life


by Marilee Adam (2nd ed., Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009)


What are the big take-aways?


The primary message of this book reflects what all good coaches know well: questions are incredibly powerful, and the questions we ask ourselves determine the results we achieve. In Change Your Questions Change Your Life, the author presents a simple formula for shifting one’s debilitating self-talk to an empowering attitude of possibility. She provides a system for identifying self-limiting “Judger” questions and converting them into “Switching” questions that lead to more productive “Learner” questions. As Adams writes in her introduction (page 8):


I have a vision of workplaces and a society – of individuals, families, institutions, and communities – that are vibrant with the spirit of inquiry. Our orientation would shift from one of fixed opinions and easy answers to one of curiosity and thoughtful questions. This is the path that lights the way for open-minded and successful collaboration, for exploration, discovery and innovation – and for the real possibility of a desirable future for us all.


Why did I like it?


Despite the implications of the subtitle (“10 Powerful Tools for Work and Life”), in my opinion this resource is most closely geared toward corporate executive leadership. The bulk of the book is a fictional story about Ben, an engineer who has just promoted to head up a product development team at an innovative company with a visionary CEO. Ben fears he is not up to the job and his compassionate boss – the CEO – turns him on to a leadership coach who helps Ben ask himself (and others) a different set of questions. As a result, Ben regains hope and success in both his personal and professional life.


While the conceit is occasionally contrived and transactional, as I find most fiction-based “how to” treatises to be, it is mostly a natural tale that dynamically engages the reader on multiple levels. It’s a well-written book – quick and fun to read – and versatile enough that I think leaders outside of the for-profit corporate environment would still be able to benefit from it. (As an aside, I note that I was surprised by the directive and pedagogical nature of the fictional coach’s style, as it was at odds with my training in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program which places much greater emphasis on drawing upon the inherent resourcefulness of the client in the process of discovering the answers to his or her own questions.)


The ten tools used by the fictional coach are presented in appendices at the end of the book. They are simple, well-presented and potentially very powerful for the right reader (one who is in the early stages of the personal development journey that is necessary for effective leadership). I like that they also scale up easily to apply to teams and organizations; any person or entity can use this inquiry model to move from “Judger” to “Learner.”


In what situations would this be useful?


This would be a particularly supportive resource to a leader who is struggling with uncertainty or new responsibilities, or who is caught in a swirl of negative self-talk (called the “Judger” mindset in the book) and seeks a straightforward, elegant and versatile formula for shifting his or her perspective. I would add that if a leader could use this book, s/he probably could use a leadership coach.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


The key competency in this book is developing the capacity for self-observation. It is only by being able to notice that you’re in the limiting “Judger” mindset that you have the opportunity to choose the “Switching” questions that get you into the more creative “Learner” mode. Therefore, any resource that improves your effectiveness and efficiency at self-observation will pair well with this book. I might start with practices that enhance EQ, or emotional intelligence, such as discussed in The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book or Resonant Leadership (both previously reviewed in the Leadership Library). If the specific challenge is adapting to a new set of higher-level leadership skills (like “Ben” in Change Your Questions), I would suggest Scott Eblin’s The Next Level which I reviewed last month.


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