Great questions are an underutilized and underrated tool in the workplace. A smart question can make you seem more likeable, persuasive, and emotionally intelligent. Questions are also a simple and effective way to make employees feel heard and valued, writes Leigh Buchanan for Inc. magazine.
But what types of questions do great leaders ask? Great leaders ask questions out of genuine curiosity, not confrontation, says Warren Berger, a journalist and author who writes about how leaders, academics, and entrepreneurs ask questions. "It's easy to ask rote questions like 'How's it going?' where you don't care about the answer," he says. "You show your interest by really listening and going deeper with a follow-up question."
According to Berger, these are the questions every leader should be asking.
Question 1: Why do I want to lead?
And this follow-up question: "Why would people want you to lead them?" Your answer to the first question should be your answer to the second, says Berger. For example, you may want to be a leader to make more money, but that answer doesn't tell you why people would want you to lead them.
But "if you want to solve problems in people's lives or create a great organization where people want to come into work every day, those are reasons people want you to lead," Berger says. If your ambition doesn't extend beyond your own interests, you may not be suited for a leadership role.
Question 2: What is my philosophy?
You can't establish organizational values for your department if you haven't identified your own values, writes Buchanan. You can get a sense of your personal philosophy by thinking through your biggest successes and failures, your formative influences, and the moments you took a stand, she recommends.
"It's a pretty complicated question," says Berger. "But it shapes the philosophy you and your business will live by."
Keep reading: Answer these 11 questions to know if you're a great boss
Question 3: What's your biggest challenge?
Ask your employees this question to surface problems and get insights into their priorities and concerns. As a leader, it's your responsibility to remove roadblocks your team encounters and address their concerns, says Berger.
Question 4: How can I help?
Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup, called this the ultimate leadership question, says Berger. It helps you surface problems while showing your humility and support, he explains.
"It should almost be the ending to all your interactions with people," Berger says. But when you ask this question, you need to be prepared to actually help your team if they need it, he warns.
Questions 5: What have you accomplished?
When you ask employees about their successes, you boost their morale and engagement, says Berger. You may even learn about surprising wins around the office, such as an advisor going the extra mile to help a student or launch a popular cross-department initiative.
Question 6: Is it clear what we're doing and why?
Your employees may not understand how their work contributes to the institution's broader mission, says Berger. And employees who don't understand how their day-to-day work relates to their organization's mission are less likely to be engaged. "They don't have to give you more than a yes or no
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