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Your Career Retainer

Your Career Retainer is a career column written for Drexel alumni by Chris Bilotta '77, '84. Chris is co-owner of the Resource Development Company, Inc., is a Certified Public Accountant, and is recognized as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

Alumni are encouraged to send comments, questions or suggestions for future column topics to

Choose Your Questions Wisely
January 2015

What propels leaders to carry out unprecedented, bold visions? Is it fear, foolishness or ambition?

In a 2014 McKinsey Quarterly article, Joanna Barsh, a director emeritus and Johanne Lavoie, a master expert, both at the consulting firm tackle this question and suggest the answer is hope based on their book, "Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact" (Crown Business, March 2014).

In their work with executives, they found the most effective leaders tend to use fear as fuel for action, but they favor hope. Fear is of value because it gets adrenaline flowing, sharpens focus, and makes extraordinary contributions possible. But it's easy to succumb to fear and feel overwhelmed by risks. Fear spreads through an organization like wildfire. Without the counterbalance of hope, fear can paralyze.

Based on their research, the authors propose a way to find the right mix of both by starting with the questions leaders should ask. They offer a simple exercise. Find an associate and ask that person to discuss their most pressing work problem with you. Initially, use only these questions to guide the conversation:

  • What's the problem?
  • What are the root causes?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What have you tried that hasn't worked?
  • Why haven't you been able to fix the problem yet?

After receiving answers to the above, restart the discussion, using these questions instead:
  • What would you like to see (and make) happen?
  • Can you recall a time when the solution was present, at least in part? What made that possible?
  • What are the smallest steps you could take that would make the biggest difference?
  • What are you learning in this conversation so far?

After soliciting these answers, debrief your associate about their thoughts and feelings during the first versus the second discussion. What did you notice? What were the person's underlying mind-sets? What were yours?

The difference should be tangible. The first set of questions geared more for solving technical problems, often prompts defensive reactions and leaves participants feeling drained. By contrast, participants report feeling animated, curious, and engaged the second time around.

We tend to use the first set more often. These problem-focused questions work well for linear issues that have "right" answers. As we move up the ranks as leaders and the challenges become more complex, our problem-solving instincts can lead us astray. By contrast, when we develop solution-focused instincts, we empower and engage others, deliberately infusing hope. Remember that employees with problems already feel fear. Problem-focused questions only fuel it.

Look for problems and you'll find them; look for solutions and people will offer them.


About the Author

Chris Bilotta

Christopher Bilotta '77, '84, has extensive experience in talent acquisition and management, recruiting, human resources, finance, accounting and systems. His specific expertise lies in providing customized retained search services to corporate clients and career management, coaching and job search assistance to individuals. Chris is a sought after advisor and mentor dedicated to building high performance organizations and helping people realize their professional goals.

He joined Resource Development Company, Inc. (RDC), a privately held Human Resource consulting firm in 1994 and became a co-owner in 2001. He directed and managed the firm’s retained search practice and helped establish the company as one of the top 20 recruiting firms in the Philadelphia area as ranked by the Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists.

Chris’ educational background includes a BS in Business Administration with a major in Accounting and MBA from Drexel University. He is licensed as a Certified Public Accountant and recognized as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

He has also been a member of Drexel’s LeBow College of Business MBA Career Services Advisory Council since its inception in 2004 and was named the Chair in 2006. In addition, Chris serves on the Board of Trustees for Saint Basil Academy, a Philadelphia area private high school and is a member on the Board of Advisors for two early-stage companies involved in college athletic recruiting and Web site development.

For more of Chris' columns on leadership and management, visit For his columns on job searching, online branding and other topics, visit

Issue Archive

March 2010
Silence: The Root Cause of Project Failure

May 2010
The Uncommon Practice of Common Purpose

June 2010
Wise Leaders and Planting Trees

July 2010
10 Steps to Effective Leadership

September 2010
Can You Predict Leadership Failures?

October 2010
Follow the Leader

November 2010
Lead While You Manage

January 2011
Driving Change and Making It Stick

February 2011
Become a Great Leader

March 2011
Using Influence to Get Things Done

May 2011
Execute Your Strategy

June 2011
Three Traits Every CEO Needs

July 2011
Activate Your Entrepreneurial Leadership

August 2011
Turning Around Negative Attitudes

October 2011
Building a Better Top Team

November 2011
Look Beyond Results When Assessing Talent

March 2012
The Four Cs of Effective Leadership

May 2012
The 3rd Alternative

June 2012
Why Top Talent Leaves

July 2012
LeBron's Leadership Lessons

August 2012
What Leaders Do Best

September 2012
5 Leadership Lessons You Won't Learn in B-School

October 2012
Four Traits of Collaborative Leaders

November 2012
Winning the Battle for Talent

January 2013
Leadership as Craftsmanship

February 2013
Developing Leadership Principles

March 2013
Handling Employee Exits

May 2013
Leadership Pitfalls

July 2013
Cultivating Creativity

August 2013
Tune In or Be Tuned Out

September 2013
The Wise Leader

November 2013
Stop Being Nice at Work

December 2013
Quiet Leadership

February 2014
The Leadership Bridge

May 2014
Leadership Rules for the New Normal

June 2014
Ensuring Succession Plans Succeed

August 2014
Making Effective Leadership Decisions

October 2014
Ways Leaders Undervalue Their Employees