Want to Be a Better Leader? Ask These 2 Scary Questions
What if there were two questions you could ask your team that hold the key to helping them be more productive?
Two questions that help you be a better boss and deliver better business results.
Would you ask them?
Frankly, it’s crucial to ask these questions if you want to have a happier, more productive team. It also sets you further along the path of being a great boss and great leader. One who brings out the best in people.
Asking these questions can be scary
I was introduced to these questions a year ago by Strategic Coach, which helps entrepreneurs be more successful.
But did I run back to my office and ask my team?
Not right away because I was scared of what I might find out about myself.
The first question is:
“What’s frustrating you about our business and the way we’re doing it right now?”
You can substitute other words for “frustrating you”, such as irritating you, bugging you, bumming you out.
The second one is:
“What’s exciting you about our business and what we’re doing?”
Again, you can substitute other words for “exciting you”, such as inspiring you, jazzing you, making you feel pumped.
When you’re the founder or boss or person in charge, asking these questions can feel like a personal thing.
What if the frustrations are all about you, or it becomes a whining session? What if they can’t think of even one thing they’re excited about and you sit in awkward silence?
And if you’ve been the equivalent of the “office ogre” that the team is afraid of, then people may not feel they can answer honestly.
But those are all excuses.
Having just asked my team, I can tell you that what I’ve learned is ground breaking. It’s going to change the way I run my business – for the better. And it will take the productivity of the entire team up several notches.
Even if it was scary. For me and for them.
Create the conditions for successful feedback
Whether you’ve been a good boss or bad boss in the past, this is a chance to turn over a new leaf and be the wonderful leader you know you can be. It’s an opportunity to open up the lines of communication in a more powerful way.
It’s all in how you go about it. So, start by creating the conditions for success. This means creating a safe space both for you and for your team members to have this important conversation.
Here are a few ground rules to consider.
Come in with the right mindset
The conversation will go best if you come in with an open mind. One where you are willing to learn how you could be better. That means avoiding these conversation killers: being defensive, entering into a debate on every point, being skeptical, being judgmental.
You need to be okay with whatever they say and demonstrate that in your reactions. Otherwise, you won’t get much useful feedback in the future.
Choose a quiet time
To get the best results, choose a time when things are relatively quiet and you can have an open ended one-on-one conversation.
While the conversation won’t take a long time, it’s best if you don’t have to interrupt the flow before the dialogue comes to a natural conclusion.
Once you pose the first question, sit back and listen. When you’re listening, don’t think about other things, and don’t interrupt. When there’s a pause, ask if there’s anything else.
Be willing to make changes
When you ask about frustrations, it’s important that you’re prepared to take action to address the things you can (and want to) change.
If you’re not willing to take action on things that will help your team be more productive, then don’t bother asking these questions. It will backfire.
The changes you choose to make should be guided by making a positive difference without changing who you are fundamentally as a person. And of course, they have to make sense. You’re not committed to doing every single thing that people bring up. Just do what you can.
For example, it could be adjusting your approach to managing the workflow, or negotiating with other parts of the organization on your team’s behalf to change the way things are done.
So, be willing to change your behavior and approach to be more effective, but make sure you’re still being yourself.
Be prepared to troubleshoot
If your team member starts to whine and complain, then keep your cool and guide them back to a constructive place.
You can get their help in focusing on the most important frustrations by saying something like, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me – you’ve clearly given this a lot of thought. Are there one or two that you care most about?”
Or, shift the focus to things that are in your sphere of influence by saying something like, “Thanks for sharing that. I can see what you mean, and I even share some of those frustrations. I’d like to focus on the ones that I can do something about.”
Say “thank you”
Then take actions that make sense.
Answers from my team
When I asked my team members about their frustrations and irritations, here’s what they said:
- “There are times I need your input, but you’re hard to reach.”
- “You’re always so busy – I feel bad interrupting you unless it’s absolutely urgent.”
- “I feel like I’m not in the loop on the latest developments.”
- “The changing nature of priorities is limiting what I can contribute.”
- “It’s hard to figure out which projects are the priorities – everything seems equally important.”
- “Everything’s just firing in. Some prioritization would be helpful.”
- “I wish we could be more strategic and planful. We tend to just dive in. We always get things done but it’s usually in a rush at the end.”
- “I come in with a list of things you’ve asked me to get done, and then you change things and divert me to something different. So I fall behind.”
- “I’d like a lamp on the desk – it’s kind of dark where I sit.”
Wow. I learned a lot about myself and how that’s reflected in the way I run the business.
I do struggle to prioritize because I’m impatient and want everything to be done right now.
I am always busy and traveling around the world, so you can’t help but interrupt me.
I love new ideas and can’t resist chasing them and substituting them for something that’s more mundane that’s been in the plans for months.
On the other hand, I was pleased that they all felt comfortable to tell me the truth. In fact, these are all areas I’ve wanted to improve on. It’s just taken on greater urgency because my behavior is affecting my team and our results.
Actions I’ve chosen to take
As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
So, now that I know, it’s up to me to do the things I can to help them be more productive:
- Return my team members’ emails first.
- Have a regular catch up session with each of them individually.
- Set out priorities more clearly so people can identify what’s most important.
- Create a decision making filter so we can all assess new projects as they come up.
- Enlist one of my team members to manage me and keep me on track so I don’t derail the plan with new “shiny objects”.
- Buy a lamp.
When I asked the second question about what they’re excited about, each team member had a different answer. Some were excited about a new product we’re launching, and others were inspired by being able to make a visible difference to the business.
Just as the first question about frustrations told me a lot about myself as a leader, the second question showed me something about my team members.
When you know what excites people and motivates them, you can help them get more of it. And that will help the whole team become more productive.
What will you do?
Asking these questions and getting feedback from your team can be scary.
But you know what?
They’re already thinking these things. So you may as well benefit from knowing how you can help them do more and be better.
Now, it’s your turn.
What will you do to get comfortable with asking these questions so you can help your team be more productive and successful?
And by the way, you’ll be helping yourself too!
Leave a comment and let me know.
This a fabulous article, and excellent insight. I sure wish more leaders had the courage to do this!
Thank you very, very much!
You’re welcome, Christine! Wishing you great courage as a leader!