One important leadership skill I have learned is asking questions. This also involves developing the key skills of listening, evaluating, responding – and then possibly asking even more questions! In his book “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”, John Maxwell says: “If you lead a team, start asking questions and really listening. Start valuing the contributions of your teammates ahead of your own. And remember that when the best idea wins, so does the entire team.”
There are many valuable questions that I have learned to ask while leading teams around the world. These include questions that gather vital information; questions that demonstrate my concern for others; questions that gather people’s ideas and suggestions for our work; and questions that lead to further discussion about decisions to be made.
Six questions that I am intentional about asking to members of my team are:
1. “What is the biggest challenge you face right now?”
It is important that, as leaders, we understand the struggles people are encountering – whether in their work or their personal lives. The responses I receive help me determine whether there are issues that I must investigate further, if I need to make changes to a proposed course of action, or if my team member has an adequate level of support.
2. “What do you need from me this week?”
This is often a follow-up question to the first one. People want to feel that help and backing is available if needed. (But remember not to ask this question if you have no way of delivering the extra support if it is requested!)
3. “Can you help me understand…?”
It is easy to charge into a meeting like a bull in a china shop when a project isn’t working well, if a mistake has been made, or when a situation has gone horribly wrong. However, this approach can be accusatory and degrading to the other person when, visibly red-faced and seething, you lob an “I have no idea what you were thinking” grenade into your “conversation” as the opening exchange. I’ve tried that approach. And I don’t recommend it.
Far better is to ask the person concerned for their version of events. I have found that a helpful way to do this is by opening my conversation with the three words “Help me understand”. It is always important to hear the other person’s perspective before any decisions are made – and even if that decision is ultimately a difficult one, at least it paves the way for you to treat them with respect and dignity.
4. “What do you think…?”
If there is one thing that I have learnt as a leader it is that other people’s ideas are often far better than my own!
That’s why it is important for me to tap into the rich experiences and ideas that my team has.
“What do you think of this strategy?”
“What do you think our response should be to this challenge?”
“What do you think we can do to improve this proposal?”
Ask the “What do you think?” question regularly, engage people in your decision-making, learn from them, and reap the rewards for your organization!
5. “What questions do you have for me?”
A lack of clarity is one of the main reasons for people becoming frustrated and disengaged. To counter this, a leader must be open to receive questions from others, and to actively invite them. This can be at a one-to-one level, in a small group, or as a whole team discussion. Never underestimate the value of asking this question. Ask it frequently and be willing to answer each question honestly and with as much information as you are in a position to give!
6. “How can I pray for you?”
As leaders we must have a genuine concern for those that we lead. People must feel that we value and care for them – this is essential in building all-important trust. Ask this question often, one-on-one, with each team member. Listen carefully to what you hear. Follow up with them again. And pray – really pray – that God would help your colleague as they go through difficult times, whether at work or in their families.
Start asking questions and really listening. Your whole team, and your organization, will benefit as a result!
What other questions should we be asking to members of our teams?