As a member of a $25,000-a-year mastermind, I was getting my turn in a 12-minute hot seat. It was my chance to get answers to my burning question from a group of people I respected: exceptional entrepreneurs with integrity who have built successful businesses. I could get advice worth 10 or even 100 times what I paid for the mastermind... but only if I asked the right question.

What Albert Einstein said inspired me: "When I have one week to solve a seemingly impossible problem, I spend six days defining the problem. Then, the solution becomes obvious."

Most people are preoccupied with looking for answers, without realizing that they might be asking the wrong questions in the first place.

As a professor and management consultant, Michael Marquardt has spent more than 25 years training and doing research with leaders. He concluded that leaders succeeded because they asked questions--the right questions--frequently. In Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, Marquardt says, "Good leaders ask many questions. Great leaders ask the great questions. And great questions can help you become a great leader."

When it comes to getting answers, the quality of your questions matters. Garbage in, garbage out. You don't get answers to questions you don't ask. And you get useless, even disastrous, answers when you ask the wrong questions.

Below are examples of the wrong questions people commonly ask, and what you should be asking instead.

Wrong Question: "How can I sell more today?"

Right Question: "How can I build a successful business?"

You ask the wrong questions when you haven't defined your goals. This leads to short-term thinking and asking short-sighted questions, instead of asking questions about the ultimate outcomes you want. So instead of asking, "Will this create a good result today?" you should be asking, "Will this bring me to where I want to be in five or 10 years?"

Wrong Question: How do I survive this catastrophe?

Right Question: What's the opportunity here?

Horse trainers put blinkers on horses to keep them visually focused only on what's in front of them. Challenging situations affect us the same way. We don't see anything else but the problem and we can become consumed with questions about how to solve the problem. Of course, you need to solve the problem at hand, but for long-term success, it's not enough to ask those questions. The better questions to ask are about what you can learn and what opportunities you may be missing.

Wrong Question: "Should I do A or B?"

Right Questions: "Can I do both A and B? Or should I do C?"

Asking "Should I do A or B" may be a false dichotomy. It implies that A and B are mutually exclusive and you can't have them both. How about asking instead, "Is there a way I can do both?" The this-or-that question also implies that those are the only options you have. In fact, you often miss other options. Either those blinkers are limiting your perspective again, or you just don't know any better. Remember what Thomas Edison said, "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this--you haven't."

Ask The Right Questions, Get The Right Answers

Try it today. What's the single, best question you need to ask to move closer to your long-term goal? Give yourself plenty of time to come up with your question.

For my mastermind hot seat, I spent days crafting my question. I got feedback from my wife, my mother, my brother, and my management team. It took me 11 drafts until I was finally satisfied I had found the right question to ask and expressed it the best way for my mastermind group to address.

When you've crafted the right question, the next challenge is finding the right people to give you the answers. Look for experts online, in books, in coaching programs and masterminds. You might even have the answers yourself, but didn't realize it until you asked the question. Whenever you need answers, first stop and ask, "What are the right questions to ask?"

Published on: Mar 16, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.