Questions are a powerful tool for every leader. The greatest leaders I know ask lots of questions.
Whenever I consult with leaders, one of the first things I do is analyze what questions the leader is asking. You only get answers to questions you ask. The better the questions – the better the answers.
Questions can challenge. They encourage discussion and open the process towards discovery of solutions and better ways of doing things. Plus, questions allow other people to have an opinion other than the leader – adding huge value to organizational health.
I’ve learned people often have opinions they won’t share until they are given a direct invitation to share them. I keep my door open all the time and try not to be a “controlling leader”. But it doesn’t guarantee people will share what’s on their mind. The forum has to be created for them most of the time.
8 powerful questions leaders should frequently ask:
How can we improve?
This is a practical question which, in my experience, people will enjoy answering. It can make their life better. They may have thoughts on needing more meetings – or less meetings – or better meetings. That could be valuable insight you don’t see. Even if they’ve never thought about this question it opens their mind to ways to improve. Who doesn’t need that?
Will you help me?
Everyone wants to be wanted. They want their input to be needed. I’m not talking about dumping on people, but when a leader asks this question and genuinely invites the team into the decision-making process they feel empowered.
How can I help you?
Knowing a leader is willing to help is huge. Even if they don’t need your help they appreciate knowing they are truly part of a team. And the leader is a team player.
I have even used this question to find out how I can help people in their next career step outside the organization. The key is to genuinely care about helping the people you lead.
Do you understand what I’m saying?
This is a valuable question to follow up with after you’ve said anything, but especially when you’ve delegated a task or given someone a responsibility. Because, again, they may not ask if you don’t. Not asking this question can lead to unnecessary confusion, miscommunication and frustration.
Do you have what you need?
Giving any assignment without asking this question leaves many people unprepared and doomed for failure. Good leaders make sure the team has adequate resources to do their work.
What do you think we should do?
This question is helpful, for example, whenever there is a problem to be solved which has never been addressed before. Most likely, when the question is answered it will impact others on the team. Inviting people to help solve the issue or come to a conclusion about it gives them ownership in the solution.
What’s next for us?
This is a great brainstorming question. It forces people to dialogue about creating something new or developing something existing. It fuels momentum.
What am I missing?
I can only see what I see and know what I know. Others on the team see and know things I need to as well.
It should be noted – these questions are most helpful on healthy teams and with healthy team members. If you have an overly negative team member, for example, these questions won’t help until you deal with that issue. Or, maybe ask the “How can I help you?” one. (Even if that needs to be transitioning to another place where they can be happy.)
Questions can, however, be a way to improve the health on a team. Sometimes they can even improve an unhealthy team member. It’s all in picking the right questions – and asking them.
Finally, after you ask the question stop talking and listen.