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Great Leaders Ask Great Questions, And Listen Even Better

Great leaders draw out the best thinking and performance from their employees.

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Do you believe that a leader’s job is to have all the answers, all the time, and tell others what to do?

Do you consider yourself the smartest person in the room, thus quick to offer advice, give direction, and share your perspective on how things should be done?

If so, you’re not alone. Most leaders do this instinctively, because it’s the behavior that has gotten them to where they are, enabling them to successfully rise through the ranks. However, when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen, to seeking input from the team around you and empowering them to get the job done. For some of the greats, this comes naturally. But for most, they work hard, behind the scenes with experts like myself and my colleagues, to reboot the programming that successfully got them to the top, but won’t keep them there. Somewhere along the line they had to make the switch and learn a different way of operating. Being a conscious, inspirational leader is absolutely a learnable skillset. 

Why Does Being A Great Leader Matter?

With statistics showing that two-thirds of employees in the U.S. are completely disengaged or neutral about their work, and the expansion of remote working during the pandemic only exacerbating the problem, finding an approach to help your employees be more involved, is more important than ever. By asking great questions, and listening even better, great leaders draw out the best thinking and performance from their employees. It’s about being present—tuning into yourself and those around you, and holding space for your team—and allowing the smartest people in the room to speak up, and genuinely listening, rather than dominating the conversation, and shutting down those around you.

The good news is that you don’t have to have the answer, to ask a great question. If you’re leading a team of any kind, or hoping to one day, and you’re ready to move forward differently, but aren’t sure where to start, or what questions to ask, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients…

Ask Rather Than Tell, Then Shut Up, Rather Than Shut Down

While quickly providing solutions to employees’ problems can be tempting, given your pressing deadlines and long list of important tasks, consider the value-building approach of asking them the right questions, which include benefits like helping them develop their problem-solving abilities, creativity, and resourcefulness. Not only will their greater strength in these areas reflect well on you as their leader, but it will also enable them to better help you and the team, and contribute more to the organization when fresh challenges arise, because you gave them the tools to be able to independently handle similar issues in the future.

When you consciously choose to connect, inspire, and support, rather than commanding and controlling, you’re nurturing your employees’ confidence and competence, and helping them develop into future leaders of the company. 

Start by asking your employees these six questions,

Then genuinely listening to understand, and lean in with compassion, to gain the most from their responses:

Employee

1. What are you excited about in your job? 

When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that motivate and excite your employee, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests, which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. What new skills would you like to learn?

While each team member was hired for a specific skill set, most have additional skills and talents waiting to be harvested. Employees who are allowed to explore the full scope of their interests and abilities experience higher job satisfaction, increased engagement and greater productivity. Importantly, when employees feel that you truly care about them as people, and are looking for ways to unlock their full potential, they will walk through fire for you.

Company

3. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? 

When you ask your team about the things that are holding them back from performing better, or experiencing more joy in their work, you know precisely which issues to begin addressing. The more you can fix what’s not working with the “that’s the way things are done around here” syndrome, the more engaged they will be. Leaders can often have a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time and money on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

4. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? 

Seeking honest feedback from employees, and then implementing improvement strategies, builds their confidence—it sends the message that you respect their knowledge and expertise, and value their perspective on issues. Employees who believe you have their best interests at heart will naturally grow in loyalty and engagement. Importantly, when you leverage the collective wisdom and experience of all members, you truly unleash the full power of your team.

Leader

5. What should I be doing more of? 

While you may believe you already have a good sense of what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing, you may be surprised to learn that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your employees, like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, and genuinely taking an interest in them personally.

6. What should I be doing less of? 

As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. If they’re worried about the repercussions of sharing their observations and suggestions, your employees cannot be truthful. Remove that fear by explicitly giving them permission to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior.

Increased Productivity And Collaboration, More Empowered And Engaged Employees

By asking great questions, and listening even better, you’re helping to define and shape the problem, thus empowering your team to develop a solution. This value-building approach enables team members to understand one another’s perspectives, eliminate ambiguity, and create alignment around issues, what they’re dealing with, and an agreed upon destination. While you’re emboldening your team to pave the best path forward, the more tangible and measurable you make the goal, the more likely it will be achieved. With this inclusive, respectful approach, you’re showing up as the leader you want to be, and they need, rather than the reactive, dismissive one. Your team respects and trusts you more, because you show up for them—acknowledging their struggles and feelings, and helping them to realize their full potential—rather than dominating the conversation, and shutting down those around you.

Great leaders don’t get locked into the “that’s the way things are done around here” syndrome. They know that flexibility and adaptability are an essential part of keeping up with changing markets, competition, job demands, and the next inevitable sea change.

They also presume that great ideas and solutions can come from anywhere in the organization, regardless of role or experience; and so they openly invite participation in decision making, challenging the status quo, and taking initiative to speak up and draw attention to where it’s needed.

To foster a more engaged environment where employees build on the creative energy and talents of each other, start by emotionally connecting with your employees more and motivating them through purpose and values, offering them sought-after mental challenge and growth opportunities, aligning work to strengths, and fostering a workplace culture that encourages curiosity, rewards openness to differing perspectives and new alternatives, and celebrates success as well as “noble” failure. 

If you’re building a world-class culture where your team works collaboratively and creatively to successfully tackle challenges head on, while also helping them develop into future leaders of the company, and you would like some help, shoot me an email and we can talk.

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