I’ve written at least one other blog on a book by John Maxwell. For those of you who aren’t familiar with John, he has probably written and sold more books on leadership than anyone alive. He founded, and still provides direction for, multiple organizations. When I have a leadership question, John’s books or CDs are still my first visit.
I recently read a book that he wrote in 2014 titled Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. This book got me thinking about the value of spending less time telling people things and more time asking them questions. The whole book is great, but the third chapter (“What Questions Do I Ask My Team Members?”) really caught my attention. I’d like to highlight just a few of the questions that John recommends asking people on your team regularly. Here they are:
- “What do you think?” This is probably the most powerful question you can ask another person. Sometimes it just helps you gather information, or get another person’s perspective (often different from your own). That alone is incredibly valuable. But, in my experience, the greatest value from this question comes from the way it affirms and builds up the other person. You’re asking their opinion! Their opinion is valuable, and that makes them feel valuable. When I’ve asked people this question, I’ve literally seen their eyes brighten and their self-confidence grow. No other question is quite as helpful to both me and the people with whom I work as this one.
- “What do I need to communicate?” Effective leadership is often about understanding “context.” Understanding the context you’re in and what other people expect or need from you. Many times another person can see that better than you, so asking them what you need to communicate to your team (or any group of people with whom you’re involved) can be a lifesaver. Ask the question “What’s the most important thing others need to know right now?” You may be surprised how often it’s something you didn’t expect, and you’ll be surprised at how much this question helps you.
- “What did you learn?” This question makes people evaluate their experiences and reflect on what they can learn from those experiences. As John says, this question “keeps my staff sharp and growing. It prompts people to evaluate their experience and make an assessment.” We all want our team members to be growing. We can help them develop a plan for personal growth. That’s great as far as it goes. But the only way to make sure growth happens day in and day out is to ask them a question like this one. It forces a person to reflect on their experience, and come up with a “take away” from that experience. We can all learn something every day, but sometimes we need to be prompted to do so.
- “How are the numbers?” This question cuts to the heart of the matter. It’s easy to give opinions or paint a picture. But, as John says, “Numbers count. They tell a story. They let you know what the score is. They show you where you’re winning and where you’re failing so you can make adjustments. They show trends. They reveal weaknesses. They are tangible evidence of how well you’re doing.” The numbers show the bottom line. Enough said.
- “What am I missing?” I love this question. First, it shows humility. It shows you don’t think you know everything. In general, people love it when you ask them for help. And this question does just that. But beyond that, it recognizes that we all have blind spots. We may see 70- 80% of the landscape, but often it’s the 20-30% that we miss that causes us problems. This question invites others to help us see the whole picture. Usually they can and they will. And sometimes it prevents a catastrophic mistake.
I have to confess that I have not made asking these questions a personal discipline yet. However, it’s on my list of habits to form, and writing this blog gives me some incentive! I’d encourage you to experiment with asking these five questions to 2 or 3 of your team members at least once a month for the next several months. See what happens. Experience the power of asking good questions!