Asking better questions makes better leaders.
There are questions we could ask the people who work for us that we simply don’t think to ask.
For example, when was the last time you asked someone on your team, “Is there anything you’ve tried telling me that I don’t seem open to hearing?”
Ask your people excellent questions about things that are not readily visible to you—what’s in your blind spots–and listen (and DO NOT debate them!) more than you talk. Applaud their honesty, and they will say what you need to lead, rather than what you want to hear.
If you’re an exceptional leader, you may already ask many or all of these. You may read through them and not find some of them very useful. It’s up to you to pick the ones that fit you, your team, and your organization.
Ask, then listen carefully to what you hear, without judgment or defense—if you feel embarrassed, surprised, or startled, I suggest you follow the 48-hour timeout rule. Put it aside and come back to it fresh a day or two later. Again, just don’t debate what they are telling you because if you do, they will conclude you’re not serious about getting the feedback.
- What energizes you the most about your work these days?
- What stresses you out or do you find draining, about your work?
- What should I know about your workload that we haven’t discussed (or that I may not understand)?
- Where are we hitting and missing the target on opportunities to improve our results?
- Where are we over-investing and under-investing (time/money/energy/resources)?
- What’s one thing you and I can each do to work together better?
- What do you not want to tell me, that really needs to be said?
- How would you like your colleagues to describe what it’s like to work with you?
- What are you finding hard to understand or address about the feedback I give you?
- What do I not seem to be noticing or paying enough attention to that I should focus on?
- Is there anything I’m doing — or not doing — that’s dampening your motivation or enthusiasm?
- What can I do to help you more than I have with your career / professional growth?
- Where am I overconfident or hearing what I want to hear more than what I need to know?
- Where am I / where are you holding on to something or someone for too long?
- How could I build more engagement/commitment from our most valued people?
- What do we need to stop doing that’s wasteful?
- Is there anything you’ve tried saying to me that I’m dismissing?
- Where do we as an organization tend to repeat the same behavior and wish for a different result?
- What will give you the greatest satisfaction to achieve in the year ahead?
- What am I not asking you that I really should ask?
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Bottom line: questions expand possibilities, and leadership is about turning possibilities into realities. If you’re doing more telling than asking/listening as a leader, then you’re missing what you need to know to lead effectively.
David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck