A Leader’s Most Powerful Question

For many, our post-pandemic work world has shifted to a hybrid model of in-person and remote activities.  Stakeholder relations and operational excellence continue to require leaders to expand, refine and adapt their executive repertoires.  An important tool for them to possess and utilize on a daily basis is the Most Powerful Question.

No hyperbole here.  The Most Powerful Question is:

“If (fill-in-the-blank) is a success, what needs to happen?”

This question is amazingly powerful because:

    • It focuses thinking and actions on defining specific desired outcomes (aka success metrics).
    • It sharpens planning and preparation activities that can make or break whatever follows.
    • It can be used in a variety of situations and contexts with simple word substitutions.
    • It is easy to recall.

My clients become familiar with the Most Powerful Question and its variations very early in our work together.

For example, I might ask a board chair who is developing a board retreat program: “If the retreat is a success, what needs to happen?”  In this way we can identify specific desired outcomes and together consider program content and format options to achieve these objectives.  Essentially, the chair’s answer or answers to my question allow us to reverse engineer the board retreat for maximum success.


Consider these Most Powerful Question examples and how they can be applied to your individual role, to your team and to the organization as a whole to support brilliant execution:

    • If today is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves personal and/or team performance and productivity.)
    • If my presentation is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves communication clarity and impact.)
    • If this meeting is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves team clarity, focus, agenda-setting, performance and follow-through accountabilities.)
    • If this business plan is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves implementation clarity and accountability.)
    • If our new hire is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves talent onboarding, role clarity, productivity and retention.)
    • If our new product line is a success, what needs to happen? (Improves marketing and sales tactics, manufacturing and operational efficiency.)

What Most Powerful Question variations would you add to this list as particularly relevant to your professional responsibilities and goals?

Remember, “If _________ is a success, what needs to happen?”

To paraphrase JRR Tolkien, this is truly the “one question to rule them all” for maximum leadership and business impact in our rapid-change world and workplace. Use it often, use it well.

Copyright © 2022, Susan Battley.  All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.