Real Leaders Ask These Questions


Real leaders are empathetic, curious, confident and skilled listeners.  They are constantly trying to learn and gain new insights and perspectives to improve both themselves and those they lead.  Real leaders ask thought-provoking questions that necessitate real responses.  They’re not interested in lip service from yes-men or yes-women.  What questions do real leaders ask?

  1. What could you use to help you do a better job?  This is a much better question than the typical “do you need anything?”  Asking the latter is really like saying “What more could you possibly want?”  Focusing the question on the result – a better job – produces a more valuable response.
  2. Talk with me about how we can improve our product/service.  If you simply ask, “What can we do to improve?” you leave yourself open to those who don’t want to risk speaking up.  You’re giving them the option of responding with a closed-ended reply – nothing.  By beginning with the words “talk with me” you’re letting that person know you’re interested and you’re expecting a conversation rather than a one word response.
  3. What am I missing?  The more common question asked is “Is there anything else?”  Again, this is a closed-ended question that risks getting a “no” response.  Asking “what am I missing” opens the door to various responses in addition to communicating that you’re not a know-it-all.
  4. Is it probable?  What are the chances?  These two questions can be interchanged.  Imagine you’re making a decision that will alter your product or service in a way that you believe will yield positive results.  Don’t ask your team what they think of the change.  Instead ask them what the probability is that customer service improves if that change is made and why?
  5. What got you jazzed today?  This should replace “how’s it going?”, or “how are you doing?”.  Most employees wouldn’t dream of telling their boss how it’s going, nor would they be comfortable enough to open up about how they’re really doing.  Asking for a specific event, gesture, or experience will provide insight into the work environment.  If there is nothing jazz-worthy a real leader takes note and digs deeper to understand the difference between an uneventful day and a disengaged culture.

Try these out and see what you learn.

How Great Is Your Company? Answer These 4 Questions.

happyworkGreatness is determined on many levels.  Seldom is it one thing that defines a great company.  This year’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work for include: Google, SAS, CHG Healthcare Services, Boston Consulting Group, and Wegmans Food Markets rounding out the top five.  What makes these select few stand out among the millions of companies doing business every day?  Is it the free lunch that Google offers or the casual dress code at SAS, or the leadership development programs offered at Boston Consulting Group that make the difference?  More than likely it’s those things plus other less tangible things that have elevated these companies to becoming employers many people aspire to work for.  If you’re considering a move, or simply trying to decide if you should stay or go, look at the following 4 areas and answer the questions I’ve posed.  This may provide you with the insight you’re looking for to make your decision.

  1. Employee morale.  Some companies conduct regular surveys of their employees to measure morale and job satisfaction.  Poor morale can lead to many negative side-effects for a company and its employees.  Here are some signs you may have a morale problem:  increase in sick time, customer service levels dropping, longer than scheduled employee breaks, increase in personal phone calls, visible avoidance of senior management.  Typically low employee morale is the result of uncontrolled stress or strain in the workplace.  However, in companies with strong employee morale you see higher engagement, lower usage of sick-time, and perhaps most importantly a culture of innovation that leads to strong customer satisfaction levels.  Engaged employees offer new ideas, suggestions, and solutions for how to improve things across the business.  The key driver to making this happen?…managements ability and desire to listen and act in collaboration with their employees.  How is your company’s morale?
  2.  Creativity.  Positive energy generates positive thoughts.  Positive thoughts produce creative ideas and solutions.  When a company’s culture is negative or numb, it loses its ability to create new ideas, concepts, products, or services.  Creativity is a required ingredient for innovation and invention.  Without it, you will successfully secure your spot in the purgatory of status quo.  Companies that thrive in a highly creative and innovative world have mastered the power of creative thinking.  They have accomplished this by instituting a level of controlled, creative tension.  Management expects employees to generate new ideas and employees expect to be heard.  This dynamic of a two-way-street creates a steady stream of creative traffic that produces ongoing positive results for both the company and its employees.  Is your company a culture of creativity, what example can you give?
  3. Turnover.  Life is all about relationships and the workplace is no different.  According to a recent Dale Carnegie Training study, the #1 reason people leave their job is because “their boss sucks”.  People don’t leave companies…they leave to get away from other people.  Companies with high turnover, which I would define as more than 10% annually should take a deep look into what is driving their turnover.  Often times exit interviews and surveys are the relied upon methods for gathering feedback from a departing employee.  However, these tactics come after the fact…when nothing can be done to salvage a high-value employee who has decided to leave.  High turnover can also suggest a disconnect between the management team, the company vision, and employee goals or quotas.  What’s the turnover rate at your company?
  4. Transparency.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  You know as an employee how your work impacts the top and bottom line…or you don’t.  Management communicates a clear vision that includes the company’s goals, the timeframe for achieving them, and regular updates on the health and progress of the business relative to these goals.  Creating a culture of transparency requires time, commitment and most importantly trust.  Management must trust the employees with information, and employees must trust their management to provide this information with accuracy and honesty and hold it in confidence.  A breakdown on either side of this relationship ultimately leads to the elimination of transparency further leading to many of the above symptoms taking hold:  poor morale, turnover, and lost productivity/creativity.  How much do you know about your company’s goals and objectives?