Do you know that great coaches ask great questions? Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with were coaches first and leaders second. Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish my people brought more solutions to me than problems.” Although this isn’t the answer in every case, team members will often share more solutions when leaders start asking better questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling people what to do. I know, I’ve been there. It’s more comfortable, and it takes less time. However, this is management, not leadership. Leadership is influence. And it’s hard to gain trust, increase our influence, and obtain buy-in when all we are doing is giving directives, which ultimately dis-empowers people by the way!
If you want to start empowering your team members, ask more questions.
The challenge is when leaders move up in organizations, it feels natural to ask fewer questions and give more commands. Have you found this to be true for you? We have different responsibilities and our workload increases. We are expected to be more creative, to problem-solve, to generate ideas, and to achieve our outcomes. This often comes at the expense of continuing to develop people skills.
Unfortunately, in many instances, the higher up we leaders go, the more isolated they feel.
If you’ve led people for any period, I’m sure you are aware there is a gap between leaders and front-line team members. It’s similar to the gap that exists between unsuccessful and successful people, or successful people and highly-successful people. The challenge is we begin to lose touch once we’re on the other side of the gap.
So, the more successful you become, the more isolated you will likely feel. That’s why it’s so important to create a culture of asking great questions and soliciting input from your team members. Not only does it engage them in the process, but it also makes your job as a leader easier.
For the remainder of this post, I want to offer some advice on how you can continue to develop and empower your team members by asking better questions, as well as introduce you to some questions you might consider when communicating with your people.
For starters, think about it like this – when you are asking questions, you’re panning for gold. And when you pan for gold, it takes time to sift for the gold and to be curious about the other person.
Strive to become a ‘Leader with Questions,’ not a ‘Questioning Leader.’ ‘Questioning Leaders’ correct and probe for problems. ‘Leaders with Questions’ connect with their team members and probe!
As a leader, ask yourself two questions:
- What do I want my team members to know?
- What do I want my team members to do?
It’s important to point out that, you should already know the answers to these questions; however, your desire should be for your followers to find the answers as well. This is accomplished by asking “Book End” questions, which include…
- Open-Ended Questions, which allow you to find out how people think and how they understand, and…
- Reflective Questions, which are like holding up a mirror. They give you insight into a person’s awareness and emotional strength. Not only is this a great way to help people grow, but it also enables you to discover what types of leaders you have on your team.
Here are some examples of questions you can use:
- What can I do to help you lead better?
- How can we work better together?
- What’s the most important tool I can give you to help you be successful?
- Can you give me three solutions to the problem you gave me?
- What improvement can you make that would make us better?
- What would you do differently if you had my position?
- What question would you like to ask me?
In conclusion, when you ask better questions, your team members will feel that you trust them more. As a result, they will trust you more. Remember, asking questions is empowering. It lets your people know that you value their opinion, that their ideas matter, and that they bring value to the organization.
It also puts you in a position where different people are bringing different perspectives on a specific situation – and that’s empowering for everyone.
“Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more.” – John C. Maxwell
Do you find that you often try to come up with solutions on your own? If so, how is this working for you? Please comment below. I look forward to your leadership insights and interacting with you on this topic.
Nathan R Mitchell is America’s Leading Empowerment Coach. In 2010, in an effort to fulfill his purpose of empowering leaders to reach their potential, he founded the leadership development company, Clutch Consulting. Nathan is also a Certified Speaker, Trainer, and Coach with The John Maxwell Team. Originally from Springfield Missouri, he earned his B.S. Degree in Management and an MBA from Missouri State University. He lives near Tulsa Oklahoma with his wife and children.
(1) Maximum Impact Mentoring with John C. Maxwell. December 2017.