Leadership

15 great leadership questions

In this article, Executive and leadership coach John M McKee shares questions any leader can use to improve results and morale.

 1."What can I do to make you more effective?"

That is one of the first questions I ask new clients. It gets a dialog going. It encourages a thoughtful reply. For those reasons alone, it's a question that I recommend to any leader who's looking for a candid and insightful communication with his or her team members.

I started using this particular one as my key "starter question" years ago when I was a leader in large corporations like DIRECTV and Hudson Bay Company. I always found it valuable in those environments, but it worked for me in start-ups just as well. Good leadership questions aren't just for those who work in large organizations or businesses. They'll work equally well for someone with a small team. That's because everyone has opinions, and when given a chance, in a safe environment, they'll share them. Great questions can bring great insight. They can help you make important changes and facilitate progress.

Here's a list of the best questions I've frequently heard being asked by great leaders. Test them out and see which ones "feel" most natural. Find out which ones provide you with the most meaningful responses. Then make them a continual part of your leadership approach:

2. What's keeping you from falling asleep at night?

3. What one thing should I do more? (or one thing I should do less?)

4. What roadblocks are holding you back? (or preventing your projects from moving ahead?)

5. What's the most important issue you are dealing with right now?

6. What do our competitors do better than us?

7. If you were in my job, what's the first thing you would you do?

8. What do we do better than anyone else?

9. How can I improve your team's productivity?

10. What are the two key behaviors of our leadership team?

11. What one thing can we do to make our weekly meeting more effective?

12. What are your top three goals for next month?

13. What's waking you up at 3:00 in the morning?

14. When you think about our goals, what are we forgetting?

15. If I could do just one thing for you as a result of this discussion, what would it be?

Leaders who use these open-ended questions, and others like them, will learn a lot. They hear statements and ideas, often for the first time. If you use any of them, I recommend that you follow up with the person who gave you the feedback. Send her or him an e-mail (or better yet, send them a handwritten note, which is much more meaningful) to tell them that you appreciated their candor.

Finally, if you change anything as a result of his or her feedback, tell everyone! If appropriate -- and it may not always be, so ask permission -- use the name of the person who caused you to make the change as a result of their idea. This will create an environment where people are more inclined to provide input, which in itself will improve things further.

Looking forward,

john

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

8 comments
Grants Man
Grants Man

I think my number one roadblock is having to deal with competition that is bigger than me and way more evil then me. I see them taking over my niche, and I get so frustrated I end up doing nothing. Grant - www.financialfreedomexpress.com

David McCleary
David McCleary

I think the questions have some validity, but they are not as powerful as some other questions. The first question, "What can I do to make you more effective?" is a weak question because it presupposes "I" am "Your" answer. I don't think leaders can add value, they can only release trapped value. These are more management questions. Leadership questions would be ones like the following: What is your contribution to the problems that are bothering you? Are people means to my ends or ends in and of themselves? What purpose is worthy of my surrender? What change must I embody to lead others to change? What courage is required of us now? David McCleary, author of Leaving Prisons: Release Your Trapped Value

roadman
roadman

Having been on both sides of this idea I can relate to the enthusiasm evident in the posted comments. While asking these starter questions is a great idea, anyone who does this can find they've opened Pandora's box! A leader has to respond in a way that does not transfer the responsibility of the suggestion to him or her self - othewise the leader will make things worse by having asked with out being able to give a satisfactory response. (Refer to the Dilbert Pointy Hair Boss syndrome.)

fholdsclaw
fholdsclaw

These are all good questions of course, and if your leadership style in one of engaging interaction then you are doing this already. I'm in this category and regularly ask these types of things. But nearly all of these same questions could, and should, be asked by team members to their leadership. You should ask your management, 'What can I do to make you more effective?", "What do our competitors do better than us?", ... Sadly my experience has been that the vast majority of leaders give just a cursory response to such questions from their team. Responses are often in the realm of "Just keep doing the good work you are doing now." or "Focus on what you need to do now and I'll worry about those issues." You started this post with the premise that many leaders fail to effectively tap into the knowledge and experience of their team. I agree, but you focused on if leaders are asking probing questions not on if they are providing insightful answers.

2009martin
2009martin

Hi John, Great leadership question that you have. Would like to ask what is the number one question, it only states 2-15 questions? Goodtimes, Martin

QAonCall
QAonCall

If leadership is 'getting people to perform to their maximum potential', then I am not sure that those 'questions' are really the thing I think they are symptoms of the actions that leaders take, and the actions are bigger categories. 3 categories these would fall into are: 1) Expect positive results 2) Take care of your people 3) Put duty before self. In order to do these things, a good leader must first declare their expectations and Show uncommon commitment. Additionally, people will not follow you if 1) You are not an honest person and 2) you don't know your job. The questions specifically fall into a set of actions that enable people to gain trust in you and gets them to follow you. They can be summed into the golden rule (do unto others...) 1. Make People feel important 2. Promote your vision 3. Treat others as you would be treated 4. Take responsibility for your actions AND those of your group. As a leader, those questions would be asked by my managers, as a leader, I put myself in their face in their daily work, so I am visible in their work life. My managers collect data/make observations and clear the road, while I direct the car to get to destinations. IMHO

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

is in italics at the top of the post

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I just read your reply and I am impressed. I have been blessed to have some really good bosses in the past, including my current boss. I think that the trick is to balance your personal relationship with your job. In some ways, it is the same with parenting. You can't always be their buddies but then again you can't always be a dictator. I heard a coach say once that the key to successful coaching is to lift your players up when they are down and to keep them grounded when they are flying high.

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