Do you have an idea for The New Times to cover? Submit it here!

Leading Rwanda: The Four Questions

In the previous “Leading Rwanda” column on “Preparing Others for the New Normal” published on 19 June, this writer focused on “what” leaders should do to establish, build and sustain trust within a team, group or project. Based on reader feedback, the next two columns will focus on “how” leaders might achieve these goals.

One reader was intrigued by the statement: “Trust is not communal. Even though it may exist within a team or a group or an organization, it depends on the specific perceptions and relationships of each individual with each other within that entity.”


One way for leaders to address this issue head on is by gathering their team virtually or in person for about an hour-long exercise, called “The Four Questions”.


This writer was introduced to this very simple but powerful exercise by his colleague, Lobna Ismail, in Washington, DC, nearly 30 years ago. Since then, he has successfully led all kinds of groups through this exercise hundreds of times, including here in Rwanda. Some groups have even been in open conflict and needed a talking stick to maintain order.


The leader should begin the exercise by asking for explicit agreement that: all voices are both valid and valued; no one is obliged to say or reveal anything; and nothing should be shared outside this group without permission.

Then team members will be asked to define the phrase “Perception is Reality”? The main points that should be vocalized clearly are: we are all fallible human beings; there is no absolute objective truth; and everyone’s perception of themselves and others is THEIR reality even if it differs from others’ perceptions.

Once the phrase is discussed and understood, the whole group will be presented with the Four Questions, which they can answer individually in a small team of up to about 12 people.

For larger groups, they can answer these questions in small “affinity teams”, which, for example, could be any combination of: “Managers, Operations, Research, Finance, Marketing, Acquiring Company, Acquired Company, Experienced, New Hires, Rwandans and/or Expats” in a work context. These teams are a good way of encouraging vulnerability, openness and transparency if this is not the norm within that particular geographical or organizational culture.

Each individual will have 5-10 minutes to prepare at least one response for each of the Four Questions. Each affinity team can meet in a physical or virtual breakout room for about 15-20 minutes to discuss and record their answers.

The Four Questions are:

1.      What do you want others to know about you and how you prefer to work and communicate with others?

This first question may seem obvious but many workers (and leaders) – new and old - rarely get the chance to present themselves to their colleagues in this way. Even something as simple as: “I am a night owl. So I will text you with brilliant ideas at 11 pm and only grunt at you before 10 am. Feel free to ignore both of these behaviours at the time”.

2.      What do you want others NOT to say or do to you?

The brain does NOT hear negatives – ever tried telling a toddler NOT to touch the hot oven? – but the second question can be extremely empowering. One group of single working mothers asked their colleagues to NEVER assume that they will NOT join them for “happy hour” drinks after work … even though they will probably never join them.

3.      What do you want from others to be able to work together and communicate with each other more effectively in future?

Many people are reluctant to ask for exactly what they want as they fear being ignored, offending someone or looking foolish. And yet most people would love to hear a colleague say something like: “if you have a big problem or just an important question, please come to me at once and if I don’t have time to talk right then, we will set a time to speak before the end of the day”.

4.      What are you prepared to contribute in return?

This is usually a much easier question for people to answer and surprise, surprise, the answers to Questions 3 and 4 are frequently very similar. We tend to want what we have to offer and vice versa.

Depending on how much time you have, the leader can then lead an open dialogue about what people thought of the exercise, what they heard and what are the implications for how this group can trust, work and communicate with each other going forward.

To make this column more interactive with readers in Rwanda, in Rwandan Communities Abroad and elsewhere in future, please feel free to comment on this column and ask any questions by sending an email to:

The views expressed in this column  are those of the writer.

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper

For news tips and story ideas please WhatsApp +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News