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The four questions good leaders need to ask their people

You don’t want the last question you ask a valued team member to be “Why are you leaving?”

There is so much pressure on senior leaders to get results. This can lead to a culture that is very future focused. Managers are so busy forecasting for the future they don’t take stock of the here and now.

What’s actually going on day to day for your staff has a direct impact on where your organisation is heading. Many managers misinterpret the need to check in with staff as simply remembering to stop and say: ‘Hi, how are you?’ a few times a week. General questions get generic responses and staff won’t feel comfortable responding to such an open question in an honest way.

At the other extreme, questions that are purely performance based (eg: how are you going with your KPIs?) can further alienate staff.

We all have good days and bad days at work. We have times we know we’re firing on all cylinders and other moments where it’s hard just to keep your head above water. As a manager or leader, if you start to have more awareness of where people are at in these natural cycles, you can plan more effectively.

Viewing the issue of ‘question asking’ as an exercise in mindfulness is useful, as it relieves the pressure for you to ‘fix things’ immediately. Rather, you can grow a culture of awareness, transparency and responsiveness where staff feel they are valued and listened to.

This level of mindful attention needs to be introduced in an authentic way. If you suddenly start pulling people aside and grilling them about their state of mind you’ll like get two responses:

A) Scepticism (no-one has ever cared before, why are you asking now?)

B) Mistrust (how much can I really say, what are you doing with this information, will it be used against me?)

Don’t be afraid to use transparency as you start shifting conversations. You can be clear that you’re looking at different ways of understanding how people are feeling about their jobs – staff will respond well to this kind of honesty.

Here are four questions that can be very helpful. They will help you elicit information that matters and start ongoing conversations with people that will have positive performance outcomes.

1. How is your headspace?

This gets a very different response from: How are you? Remember to encourage an honest answer and make it clear you are not judging (eg: I should always say I’m in a good headspace otherwise I will look bad at my job!).

Headspace is not equal to performance. Many people operate well under high levels of stress but if it’s constant it leads to burn out. They’d be more productive if this headspace were acknowledged and then gradual steps taken to improve conditions.

2. What do you have on at the moment?

Such a simple question, but rarely asked. You will get an immediate picture of whether someone is overloaded or being under utilised. When a person has too much on, steps can be taken to shift tasks or deadlines. And if someone feels frustrated from lack of challenges you can make them feel appreciated by delegating new areas of responsibility.

3. What do you have coming up?

Similar to the above question, but this one will help with your own planning as well. If you know there is a busy period coming up you can have a clear picture of who can handle some extra pressure and who needs to just keep their head down and carry on.

4. What do you need from me to achieve your goals?

You’d be surprised how taken aback staff can be at this question. What do you mean, my goals? I just work here! Align personal goals with organisational goals wherever possible. People feel valued and will be much more motivated to put in extra effort.

About the Author

Ricky Nowak is one of Australia’s most referred and well-known professional Speakers, Executive Coaches and Consultants specialising in Leadership Development. A published author in the field of Leadership, Ricky is also only one of eighteen Australian Stakeholder Engagement Coaches accredited by Marshall Goldsmith, a Forbes Thought Leader.

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