Leadership involves making hard decisions. The right decisions…hopefully.
Sometimes your leadership role requires you to give answers. Sometimes you need to give a directive or delegate a task.
You need to communicate effectively. Your purpose. Your “why.” People want guidance. They seek encouragement. They crave recognition.
You know that listening is a critical part of effective communications. People need to be heard. The need to feel understood.
You get that.
But your plate is full. It’s not like you’ve got a lot of free time.
How do you make those interactions as efficient as possible? You want to give your employees time and attention, but you can spend all day — every day — listening to things that may or may not be relevant.
How do you allocate the time you spend on your own work and the time you devote to your team? How do you balance the time you spend giving direction and the time you spend listening? And when you’re in listening mode, how do you make that time as productive as possible?
You do the same thing with yourself as you do with your team: you ask good questions.
The right question asked at the right time can be a powerful tool for productivity and insights. Good questions can:
● stimulate new ideas
● provide you with insights
● help you solve problems
● facilitate redefining challenges
● teach others how to think and arrive at their own answers
● create engagement
● build rapport and trust
Questions also let you control the direction and content of the conversation as well as the time.
I’ve created a list of 96 questions for different purposes and different situations. Don’t be overwhelmed. The goal is not to ask dozens and dozens of questions. Your head will explode. Your team will mutiny.
Too many questions at one time feels like an interrogation. Select the most useful questions for you with care. More is not better.
One question, strategic and timely, can be more beneficial than a dozen questions that are okay.
Refer to the list. Find what works, discard what doesn’t.
Identify what questions, to whom. And when. Start today.
Questions to ask yourself daily
Your daily focus as a leader is driven by prioritization and keeping a proper perspective. Here are some questions to establish your mindset each day.
- What are my top three priorities today?
- Is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time?
- Is what I’m working on helping me make progress towards my goal?
- What is the most important thing I need to communicate today, and with whom?
- Whom did I publicly recognize for a behavior that exemplifies our culture?
- Where did I provide value this morning / this afternoon (be specific)?
- Have I had a good balance of speaking AND listening?
- What can I do today to help my team excel?
Questions to ask yourself each night
When you close out your day, you can ease your mind by identifying what you learned and how you can be even better tomorrow. No regrets, but constant learning. You also prepare for tomorrow, which allows you to start your day tomorrow with confidence. And it allows you to sleep tonight.
9. What went really well today?
10. What made it go well?
11. What didn’t go well today?
12. Why didn’t it?
13. What did I learn today to make me a better leader tomorrow?
14. What am I grateful for?
15. What are my top three priorities for tomorrow?
Questions to ask yourself monthly or quarterly
Every once in a while, you need to hit the pause button and evaluate how you’re doing. It allows you to look at how you do what you do — and why you do what you do — objectively and with intentionality.
16. Do I hold myself accountable before I look to hold others accountable?
17. Can I be counted on to do what I said I would do — and do the right thing
18. Do I encourage different perspectives, ideas and points of view?
19. Do I encourage change and embrace the role of change agent?
20. Do I extend trust to people on my team before I expect to receive it from them?
21. Do I treat my team members with respect?
22. Are there any hard decisions that I’m procrastinating on?
23. Have I walked the talk related to our culture / values?
24. Would my team members say I actively listened to them?
25. Who on my team is growing and how am I contributing to their growth?
Questions to ask your team
Maintaining clear and continuous communication with your team should be a top priority. In addition to your 1×1 meetings with each individual and your regular team meetings, having quarterly check-ins are important. They allow you both to pull up to 10,000 feet to create understanding and connection.
26. What are your top three personal needs? How are those currently being met — or not — at our company? (note: look for non-work-related items, especially around health, family or hobbies)
27. What is one thing that I should be aware of — good or bad — right now?
28. What is your biggest win this quarter?
29. What is your biggest challenge or frustration right now?
30. What is the most important decision you’re facing? Is there anything that is keeping you from making it?
31. What roadblocks are you facing? How can I help you deal with them?
32. What do you not get enough of from me?
33. What is one thing that we need to start doing that would help our team and its success?
34. What is one thing I could stop doing that would make our team stronger?
35. Who has done phenomenal work lately? What did they do and how did they contribute?
36. Who would you consider an unsung hero in our company? What do they do that deserves recognition?
37. If you were forming a new team, who are the people you’d most want on your team? Why them?
38. What is one thing that our team needs to make sure we continue to do in order to be successful?
Questions to ask your direct report’s direct reports
You can learn a lot about your organization, your direct reports, and your future leaders, by having skip-level meetings. Your team members need to feel comfortable with you interacting with their direct reports based on trust. You’re not looking for dirt. You’re hoping to gain insights and build communications. If your direct reports don’t trust you to have those conversations, look first in the mirror. Look second at your culture. Then you can look at the direct report to see where the distrust is coming from. Some of these items came from the getlighthouse blog and have also been included in the section above.
39. What do you need more of in order to be successful?
40. What do you need less of in order to be successful?
41. When was the last time you had a conversation with your manager about your career? What was the outcome?
42. What’s the best part of working with your boss?
43. What’s the hardest part of working with your boss?
44. If you were in charge of the team you work on, what’s one thing you would do differently? Why?
45. What’s one thing your team should start doing? Why that?
46. What’s one thing your team should stop doing? Why that?
47. What’s the biggest bottleneck that affects you and your team doing their jobs well?
48. If we had the budget to get you any one thing for you to make you better at your job, what would you want?
49. Who are the most valuable people on your team? What makes them essential?
50. What’s your favorite part about working on your team?
51. Who do you enjoy working with most on your team? Why them?Who has done phenomenal work lately? How did they contribute?
52. Who would you consider an unsung hero in our company? What do they do that deserves recognition?
53. If you were forming a new team, who are the people you’d most want on your team? Why them?
54. What is one thing, as a department, we need to make sure we continue to do in order to be successful?
Questions to ask meeting attendees
Meetings are a fact of life inside organizations. As a business community we do a lousy job of running effective meetings. You should have a burden to run highly productive meetings and have them under a state of continuous improvement. Every six months, you should assess the effectiveness of your meetings.
55. Are meetings productive?
56. Do they have an agenda?
57. Do they start and end on time?
58. Do people come prepared?
59. Is information distributed in advance, if necessary?
60. Are important issues discussed in our meetings?
61. Do team members exhibit “carefrontation” — the ability to challenge / confront from the standpoint of caring, trust and honesty?
62. Do you leave more energized than you were before the meeting…or the opposite?
63. Did everybody participate in the discussion?
64. Did the loudest personalities shut up and the quietest personalities speak up?
Bonus — Marshall Goldsmith’s recommended questions
Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach to several Fortune 100 CEOs and the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Triggers and How Women Rise, believes that leaders need to reflect on their behavior, with these six questions:
65. Did I do my best to increase my happiness?
66. Did I do my best to find meaning?
67. Did I do my best to be engaged?
68. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
69. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
70. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?
Bonus — Marcus Buckingham’s two questions to ask each of your team members each week
Marcus Buckingham, the author of First Break All the Rules and 9 Lies About Work, identifies two simple questions to keep your finger on the pulse of your direct reports.
71. What are your priorities for the week?
73. What can I do to help?
Bonus — Seth Godin’s ten questions to ask yourself
Seth Godin is the author of nineteen bestselling books and a thought leader on marketing, advertising and leadership. I think his greatest contribution is that he makes you think. If leaders need to be intentional about why they do what they do, he’s not a bad person to listen to. The following is a list of questions he suggests you ask yourself to see if what you do “matters.”
74. What are you doing that’s difficult?
75. What are you doing that people believe only you can do?
76. Who are you connecting?
77. What do people say when they talk about you?
78. What are you afraid of?
79. What’s the scarce resource?
80. Who are you trying to change?
81. What does the change look like?
82. Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?
83. What do you stand for?
84. What contribution are you making?
Hints: Any question that’s difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.
Bonus — The Gallup Q12
The Gallup organization has done extensive employee engagement work, based on behavioral economic research, involving more than 17 million employees. Through its research, Gallup has identified 12 core elements — the Q12 — that link powerfully to key business outcomes. These 12 questions address elements that best predict employee and work group performance.
The responses create a baseline to determine where members of your team are now and identify where you need to work to enhance recruitment, retention, and employee development going forward.
The twelve questions are:
85. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
86. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
87. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
88. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
89. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
90. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
91. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
92. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
93. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
94. Do you have a best friend at work?
95. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
96. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
Sometimes Questions Are More Powerful Than Answers
Early in your leadership journey, most people feel compelled to be the source of answers. Like they need to prove themselves.
You find that you become the bottleneck when it all depends on you. You don’t have enough time. And you don’t have all the answers.
And your people aren’t growing in the process. Candor gets limited.
Sometimes you will need to be decisive and vocal. It goes with the territory as a leader.
But sometimes you can provide the greatest leadership impact by asking questions. Strategic questions. At the right time. To the right person.
Sometimes it will be your team members. Sometimes it will be your skip-level employees.
And sometimes it will be the person looking in the mirror.
All are works in progress. All can get better.
One question at a time.