Author(s), Title and Publication

Artiz, J., Walker, R., Cardon, P., & Li, Z. (2017). Discourse of leadership: The power of questions in organizational decision making. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(2), 161-181. DOI: 10.1177/2329488416687054


While leadership is often an assigned role through experience, and/or an individual’s qualifications, this study explores leadership as an identity established through asking thoughtful questions in effort to accomplish tasks and influence decisions. Through an in-depth study of 28 recorded and transcribed group-decision-making meetings inside organizations, the authors identify three types of leadership, and isolate three components of questions to establish links between questions and leadership. Leaders are indicated as individuals who ask consistent, constructive questions that are open-ended, and that evoke listener confirmation and action. Transleaders are indicated as individuals who ask sporadic questions, especially during times of lulled conversation, as a means of collaboration rather than to gain specific action or response. Nonleaders are indicated as individuals who ask limited questions and make limited contributions. This paper reveals the influence of questions as a resource to and function of decision-making and leadership. This research further identifies individuals who ask questions that create opportunity for response and action as those who are perceived as, and who are likely equipped to function as leaders.

The results indicate a relationship between leadership and question design, i.e., open-ended questions as opposed to yes/no questions, question intention, i.e., questions that intend action and/or listener confirmation, and question response, i.e., questions that result in task accomplishment. Ultimately the results demonstrate leadership as an emerging role for individuals who ask dynamic, thought- and response-provoking questions. Additionally, while there remains significant research outlining differences between male and female leaders, the results of this study demonstrate open-ended questions that create response and results as a gender-neutral tool in constructing authority and establishing leadership identity in group settings.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) place a special emphasis on asking open-ended questions to facilitate suggestions and challenge status-quo in decision-making meetings, (2) focus on offering suggestions, facilitating responses and requesting changes to facilitate leadership in group-settings, (3) pay close attention to social cues in groups to facilitate positive organizational impact, i.e., ensure emerging leaders are not simply the more outgoing conversationalists, but are individuals who constructively challenge and engage the group, and (4) as leaders emerge, look for consistent use of questions in both smaller and larger group environments to ensure effectiveness.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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