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Questions are an Important Tool for Leaders

Uncategorized Mar 20, 2018


A client of mine was shocked.

He had recently received feedback that his direct reports felt like he ‘yelled’ at them, or ‘scolded’ them.

“I don’t yell at my team”, he said. “And I really don’t scold them. They ask questions, and I tell them what they need to do. Simple as that!”

I asked him to give me an example of what he says and how he says it. Right away, I knew what the problem is.

I had to tell him that, even though he was only role playing, I actually felt a little intimidated by him when he was speaking. Again, he was shocked.

I talked to him about the tone in his voice, the fact that his hand gestures felt like they were pointing at me, and that he was speaking with some intensity. We talked over all those things and he explained that he was passionate about helping his team, so that seemed to somehow come across to them differently than he intended it.

Yes, it did.

He asked how he could come across differently.

Here is how to do it: ask questions rather than explain.

A few good, well-timed questions can get a discussion going, and bring people around to their own conclusion about what the right thing is to do.

Many leaders feel like they must be in charge, be the one in control, and be the teacher. Well, there are a few instances when that might be true. However, by asking people a few of the following questions, a leader can get to the same place with his/her team without actually having to tell people what to do (or ‘yelling’ at them).

  • “How would you define the problem here?”
  • “What do you see as our options to address this?”
  • “How do you think this issue came about?”
  • “What are some of the barriers we need to watch for?”
  • “What do you feel is the best way to implement this new system?”
  • “If you were me, what might you do?”
  • “Why do you think this isn’t working?”

There are two kinds of questions: open-ended and closed-ended.

Closed-ended questions ask for a direct answer—typically yes or no. “Do you know how this works?” “Did you get to work on time?” These kinds of questions often feel like an interrogation.

Open-ended questions ask for a longer, more thoughtful response. “What are the factors that make it difficult for you to get to work by 8:00?” “Help me understand how this actually works.” These kinds of questions draw out a lot more information and allow for a dialogue. This feels like a discussion, and leads people to feel like you actually care how they think and what they feel.

As an employee, how would you rather feel—interrogated, or valued?

Asking good questions is a key tool in a leader’s toolbox, and can get you through all kinds of conversations.

The next time you feel stuck as a leader, consider asking a question.


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