Leading with Trust

10 Questions Great Bosses Regularly Ask Their People

Great leaders ask great questions.

Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.

If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:

1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).

3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.

4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.

5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?

6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.

7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.

9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).

10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.

Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.

5 Signs You Need Some Time Off…Stat!

Human CannonballThe start of this year had me feeling a bit like I was shot out of a cannon. BOOM!

I hit the ground running with several important projects and I haven’t stopped. Not only has the pace stayed high, but the work itself has been arduous and energy-draining.

We can sustain a high volume of work for only a certain period of time before it starts to take its toll. I’ve been noticing a few warning signs in my own attitudes and behaviors that are signaling me it’s time to rest and recuperate. If you’re experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, perhaps you need a rest too.

  1. Irritability—I’ve found myself being irritable with loved ones for no apparent reason. Things I normally wouldn’t think twice about – comments, jokes, behaviors, or even facial expressions – are causing me to react in unpleasant ways. Nothing major, but just enough for my wife to call me “Mr. Grumpy Pants.”
  2. Impatience—I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling tired or stressed I usually become impatient. I don’t have energy reserves to call on to allow me to exercise patience. I just wish people would drive faster, lines would be shorter, and people would be less bothersome to me. Sound familiar?
  3. Loss of Perspective—Sometimes I get so far into the weeds of a particular project or issue that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I find myself stressing out over every little issue and decision, when in the grand scheme of things, those things probably won’t carry much value. If you find yourself willing to fight every battle and take every hill, you’ve probably lost perspective of the big picture. We have to pick and choose our battles wisely.
  4. Tiredness and Fatigue—When I’ve had the pedal to the metal for too long, I start to run out of gas. I get to a point where I want to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock, don’t feel energized about getting into the office, and generally just want to rest. Chronic stress will lead to these symptoms and we have to be careful to know when we’re crossing the line from normal tiredness to unhealthy levels of stress.
  5. Disengagement/Lack of Motivation—Past experience has shown me that if I don’t invest in rest and recuperation, I will eventually get to the point where I just “check out.” The major warning sign to me that I’m approaching this point is when I think to myself, “I just want to be left alone!” You know how it feels when you get to this point, right? You’re tired of all the demands on your time and attention and you just want to get away from it all. That’s when you need time off of work.

There is a distinct difference between running a sprint versus a marathon. As you know, sprints are short, fast bursts of energy followed by periods of rest and recuperation. Marathons are endurance runs, with a slow and steady pace to conserve energy over the long haul. You can’t complete a marathon running at a sprinter’s pace. You have to pick one or the other. The same is true with our work. We can run sprints or marathons. We can’t do both.

If you’ve been running at a sprinter’s pace and are experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, it’s a sign you’re due for a well-deserved break. What do you say we check our calendars and plan some time off?

The Strategy Every Leader Can Use to Develop High-Performing Employees

man-flipchart-groupThe performance of your employees is a reflection of your leadership. What does your team’s performance say about you?

For many leaders, their team’s performance doesn’t say much. Gallup surveys show nearly 70% of the workforce is “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” These employees have quit and stayed—they show up for work but do the bare minimum to get by, don’t put in any extra effort to care for customers, and are a drain on organizational resources and productivity. According to Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance.

Two new research reports just published by The Ken Blanchard Companies point to strategies that learning and development leaders can use to improve the level of trust in their organizations.

Drawing on an 1,800-person survey, the study looked at the connections between coaching and trust behaviors and employee intentions to:

  1. Remain with an organization;
  2. Apply discretionary effort;
  3. Be a good organizational citizen;
  4. Perform work at high levels; and
  5. Endorse the organization as a good place to work.

Results of the survey show that trust in one’s leader has a large degree of correlation to the five intentions as a distinct unit.

The research also looked at the impact coaching behaviors had on trust. There was a strong relationship between trust and the coaching behaviors of facilitating, inspiring, and guiding—and it was found that individuals are more likely to trust their leader when they perceive the leader exhibiting these coaching behaviors.

Building trust with other people doesn’t just happen. It’s a skill that leaders need to develop just like any other leadership competency. If you want to have a team of high-performing employees who are engaged, loyal, and vocal supporters of your organization, focus on building trust. The results will speak for themselves.

The 4 Unmet Needs That Lead to Disengaged Employees

4 Basic Human Needs for Engagement

Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote

Everyday the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace. There is an epidemic of workers who are uninterested and disengaged from the work they do, and the cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, and Gallup surveys show the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”

This issue presents a tremendous challenge for organizational leaders. Even worse than dealing with the effects of people who leave your organization (studies show replacing employees can be 1.5 to 3 times their annual salary), you have to manage these disengaged workers who have decided to “quit and stay.” You’re still paying them to under-perform and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of your organization!

In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.

The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.

The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.

The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.

Employee engagement is a broad and complex topic, so much so that most leaders feel overwhelmed at how to make a meaningful impact. Focusing on ways to meet these four critical needs will lay the foundation for an environment where your employees develop and thrive in their roles.

4 Ways to Develop & Retain Employees When You Can’t Give Promotions

Climbing the corporate ladder has long been the traditional view of success in an organization. The main strategy for developing and retaining key talent has been to keep them engaged through a series of promotions and title changes that satisfy an individual’s need for growth and recognition.

Corporate Ladder vs Lattice

Credit: The Corporate Lattice, Deloitte University Press

Well, in most organizations these days, the corporate ladder has been replaced by the corporate lattice. The flat design of most organizations has eliminated the ladder—multiple layers of structure—and instead created an environment where growth has to be achieved in a zig-zag, network pattern of project-based assignments or leadership experiences. So when leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions, how do they grow, engage, and retain their key talent? Here are four approaches:

1. Ask your team members what they’re interested in doing — Asking someone what they want…novel concept, huh? Many leaders choose not to have this conversation because they are afraid they won’t be able to provide what is requested. Instead, frame the conversation with your employees as a time to explore opportunities with no strings attached. I tell team members that nothing is off the table when we have these conversations and I balance it with also saying I’m not making any promises. We’re simply exploring options, yet I make it clear that I’m in the employee’s corner and will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals if there is a way we can find alignment between their interests and the needs of the organization.

2.Don’t be constrained by job descriptions — My HR colleagues may cringe a bit with my philosophy, but I believe leaders need to think beyond job descriptions when it comes to employee growth. Too often we get locked into job descriptions as the defining scope of a person’s responsibilities, including who reports to who in the chain of command. In reality, we need to consider the job description as the broad outline of how and where the person will contribute to the organization. Growing in the corporate lattice requires people to take on BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that allow them to develop new skill-sets and competencies. Leaders should frame growth as an individual’s chance for resume enhancement that will benefit them in the future, whether at your organization or somewhere else.

3. Give away parts of your job — Most leaders have far too much on their plates to accomplish on their own, so why not delegate some of your key responsibility areas to competent and motivated team members? It’s hard for some leaders to go this route because it means giving up control and trusting others. It can also be threatening to your ego, as if it’s an admission you aren’t capable of doing it all on your own. Actually, smart leaders use this strategy because it’s a win-win for everyone. Your employees get to take on challenging goals and they earn the satisfaction of contributing in important ways, and you deliver on the key objectives for your team and develop a strong bench of capable and committed team members.

4. Adopt a mindset of being a developer and exporter of talent — Leaders should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to help their people grow, even at the risk of having them leave for greener pastures at some point in the future. My experience has shown when employees clearly know you are on their side and will do whatever you can to support their growth, they devote even more loyalty to you and will stay with you as long as possible. Who would want to leave an environment where they know their boss bends over backwards to provide opportunities for growth and development? Not many.

The corporate ladder doesn’t exist in many organizations these days and leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions like they were candy. We’ve got to have ongoing career conversations with team members, look for areas of growth beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, delegate key responsibilities to others, and be willing to invest in developing people, even at the risk of them ultimately leaving the organization. Using these strategies to navigate the corporate lattice, combined with financial models that facilitate income growth, will help you develop an engaged and passionate workforce that fuels personal and organizational success.

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