Asking questions is one of our most important, yet overlooked, skills for effective communication, whether at work or in life. The best leaders are often not the ones who have the answers - they are the ones who ask the right questions and actively listen to what others have to say.
There is an art to asking questions that bring others to the table, encourage their opinions and perspectives, and help them see their value to your team and company.
Famous leaders throughout history have often used questions to inspire, lead, and drive change. As Oprah Winfrey herself said, "When you ask the right questions, you get the right answers."
7 Questions to Ask as a Leader
Asking questions is a leadership skill set that vastly improves communication, collaboration, problem-solving, support, and accountability. Most of us are aware that open-ended questions are the most effective at encouraging thoughtful responses and fostering productive discussions.
Think about how you as a leader use questions in your day-to-day, whether working with senior leadership or with communication with your team. Whether you are selecting new hires, developing the talent you already have on board, or making sure you retain your most valued employees, asking questions is an excellent tool you can leverage with every interaction.
Here are a few of our favorite questions that are particularly effective in various leadership situations and why they are so effective:
1. “What challenges or obstacles are you facing in your role?”
Encouraging your employees to share their challenges shows attentiveness and priority to their needs and your awareness of the problems they are actively working to solve.
2. “How can I support you right now?”
Demonstrating your commitment to helping employees succeed and showing that you are committed to providing the necessary resources and assistance is key to keeping your team members fully engaged and retaining the talent you have invested in.
3. “I’d love to hear your thoughts on our company’s mission and values, and how we can better align with them?"
Engaging employees in discussions about your company's core values goes a long way toward helping them feel connected with the mission and their individual role in the company’s success.
4. “How can we improve work-life balance and well-being for our team?”
Showing concern and care for the mental and physical well-being of your employees is increasingly important post-pandemic. Companies who recognize and support work-life balance are seeing the benefit in their ability to recruit, engage, and keep their top talent, along with higher productivity and performance.
5. “What kind of recognition and appreciation do you find most meaningful?”
One size does not fit all, and it’s important to ask and learn how each person on the team wants to receive rewards and recognition. Understanding each individual’s preferences helps motivate your employees by acknowledging their contributions in the ways that mean the most to them.
6. “Do you have any suggestions for improving our processes or workplace environment?”
Valuing your employees’ input, ideas, and practical suggestions promotes a culture of continuous improvement where innovation and out-of-the-box thinking are rewarded and encouraged. It also encourages diverse perspectives, fosters inclusivity, and helps you as a leader understand all the different angles of an issue.
7. “What can we learn from this experience?”
Learning from both successes and failures is the magic that separates great companies from simply good. This question is unparalleled for helping teams to reflect, think critically, and identify best practices moving forward.
And if you ever find yourself in doubt about what question would be helpful to ask, you can always follow up with open-ended questions such as, “Why is that?” or “Interesting, tell me more.”
It’s easy to see how building the skill of asking powerful questions into your daily routine can help you as a leader establish common ground and build rapport with your team. But keep in mind that what is equally as important is setting the intention to actively listen by being fully present and not so focused on the next question that you miss truly hearing what the person is sharing. (reference one of our blogs on active listening here)
By asking the right questions, and openly and actively listening, you can help your employees feel valued and supported with their growth and development so they are fully engaged in their roles and actively committed to your organization’s overall mission and success.
Now, what would you like to ask your team?
*Editor's Note: This blog has been updated since its original post date.