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.

Depressed Over Losing a Star Player? Consider These 5 Benefits

star-playerA few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

6 Strategies for Leading When People Won’t Follow

stubbornLeadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:

1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.

2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.

3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.

4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.

5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.

6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.

Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.

10 Ways Leaders Aren’t Making Time for Their Team Members (Infographic)

Work Conversations Infographic CoverPerformance planning, coaching, and review are the foundation of any well-designed performance management system, but the results of a recent study suggest that leaders are falling short in meeting the expectations of their direct reports.

Researchers from The Ken Blanchard Companies teamed up with Training magazine to poll 456 human resource and talent-management professionals. The purpose was to determine whether established best practices were being leveraged effectively.

Performance-Management-Gap-InfographicThe survey found gaps of 20-30 percent between what employees wanted from their leaders and what they were experiencing in four key areas: Performance Planning (setting clear goals), Day-to-Day Coaching (helping people reach their targets), Performance Evaluation (reviewing results), and Job and Career Development (learning and growing.)

Use these links to download a PDF or PNG version of a new infographic that shows the four key communication gaps broken down into ten specific conversations leaders should be having with their team members.

Are your leaders having the performance management conversations they should be? If you find similar gaps, address them for higher levels of employee work passion and performance.

You can read more about the survey (and see the Blanchard recommendations for closing communication gaps) by accessing the original article, 10 Performance Management Process Gaps, at the Training magazine website.

(This post was originally written and published by David Witt at LeaderChat.org.)

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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