Three Questions You Must Regularly Ask Your People
When I started in leadership the main question I was ever truly interested in knowing from my people was, “What are you doing?”
I wanted to know exactly what they were doing. Were they doing what I asked them to do? Were they being productive? Were they wasting time? Now, I ask other questions. “What are you doing?” is usually last on my list.
I believe there are better questions to ask in order to get to the heart of a person. And it is the heart I am after. Because when you know the heart of your people, everything else falls into place.
First Question: How are you doing?
This is by far the most important leadership question you can ask. Of course, it is not the four little words that make the impact. It is the genuine desire that you have to truly want to know how that person is doing.
This question, when motivated by authenticity, communicates that you care for them. While most will welcome you asking and wanting to know, it can be challenging for action-oriented people to stop and answer that. Some people simply don’t like to open up. But they will. Everyone will with the right timing and approach. People want to be understood.
If you were leading the team I serve on, I would want you to know what is going on inside my mind. I would want you to care. I would want you to know what I am struggling with and what I am dreaming about. And while others may not like to be an open book like me, as leaders we must give everyone the opportunity to open up, consistently and freely.
“How are you doing?” is not an invitation for you to become their psychotherapist or their marriage counselor. It does mean however, that you really want to know as much as they are willing to share with you about the condition of their heart. Because at its core, leadership is a matter of the heart.
Second Question: How can I serve you?
I want to know what I need to do to make my people successful at what they are trying to accomplish. After we set the vision together, my role changes quickly to become their enabler. Because when they succeed, we all succeed. And as they succeed, they will become bolder and more confident. They will grow, and then we will all progress. And that’s how the dream is reached.
Serve is a strong word. Choose another if it makes you more comfortable. This principle comes from the Bible. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
The word serve has connotations of being a subordinate or a house servant, someone that can be ordered around or perhaps mistreated. This is not what is meant here. In this context, serve means to be a person who will offer support in both the big and small things, and a person who will not steal the limelight. Serving is doing anything in the background to make sure a person succeeds. “How can I serve you?” can also be asked as, “How can I help you?” Or “How can I make your job easier?” Or “What can I do for you?” Or even, “What can I do differently to help you?”
Think about it. If a key person on your team is in charge of an important project, and you give them a hand with it—even if it’s cleaning the tables as they prepare for a presentation—you communicate that you are in their corner. You demonstrate that you are not too good to help and that you believe in them to take the leadership role. After all, the project is off your plate, they are handling it, and they are carrying out the dream.
So invite people often to tell you what they need from you.
Third Question: How are you growing?
You must make sure your people are growing. It must be an expectation you share with them. So when you ask this question regularly, you remind them and remind yourself to take this area seriously.
For me, if my team and organization are doing well but my people are not growing as individuals, I consider myself failing in my leadership. See, for me success in leadership is defined partly by the degree a person on my team is growing. Sure, this requires resources and time on my part. As I look back on my service on other teams, it is rare that people I have worked for have looked at me and said, “Wes, I want to encourage you to grow this year. What is your plan to grow? How can I help you to grow? Here is my budget for your growth.”
Wow! I can only imagine! I would love that. I would love it because I would know they truly care about me. I would love it because they have enough foresight and depth of character to want to intentionally push me to grow. These people are rare. I want to be one of those people. Are you one of them? As leaders, sometimes we get so busy with so many important things that we forget to focus on the most important thing—our people.
How often should you ask these questions? It differs between teams. For me, it is usually at least once a week. You may want to phrase these questions in your own style and words. But I encourage you to make these three questions a cornerstone of the relationships with your people:
How are you doing?
How may I serve you?
And how are you growing?
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