My friend and mentor John Maxwell defines leadership as “influence — nothing more, nothing less.” If we do not have the ability to influence people, our ability to lead them will be lost. Another big factor in leadership is remembering that leadership is a verb, not a noun. It is not the position you hold but the action you give to others that helps them grow and develop. When developing the action of influence, this can include:
• Developing a servant leadership style to show your workforce that you work for them, not just that they work for you
• Committing to developing a culture of growth and development
• Making employee engagement and employee satisfaction high priorities in your organization.
• Asking good questions that allow you to get to know your employees and, more importantly, how they think.
When I was in a leadership position, and when I engage with organizations, I always introduce the asking of four questions into the leader’s approach to their workforce. Throughout the day, as we see our employees or interact with them, asking one of four questions allows us to gauge their current level of engagement. Their answers allow us to measure how they see the organization, our leadership and the direction in which they are heading.
Question Number One: What can I do for you today?
There are many resources at our disposal as leaders within our organizations: none better than our own experiences, knowledge, mistakes and lessons learned. These experiences have value to your team’s need for answers and direction. An interesting fact here is that, when individuals share what’s on their minds, the issues, challenges or problems are not new — they are often some of the same issues, challenges and problems you experienced when you were in their place, just packaged in a different generational wrapper. By asking this question, you show your team members that you care about them and that you want to know their thoughts, how you can help them and how you can relate to them.
Question Number Two: If you were leading this department/organization, what is the one thing you would change, and why?
I really like this question, as it gives you, the leader, the opportunity to hear what is on the mind of your employees. Sometimes, when you are leading, you may not be in the know of what is happening within your department. By hearing what an employee would change, you are given a direction for tweaking a process, developing a process or maybe even removing a process. The workforce is on the front line of making the processes for organizational success transpire. If you can revamp a process or develop a new workflow, you should make this happen as soon as practically possible.
Question Number Three: What advice or guidance do you have for me to be a better leader for you?
This is not only a tough question to ask but a tough one for the employee to answer. It is important nonetheless. First, by asking it, it means you feel comfortable with yourself, your confidence and your ability to leave your ego outside. You never know what you may hear in return, and being vulnerable shows your team you are willing to grow for them.
When responding to this question, your subordinates may have some challenges in finding an answer. On one hand, they feel that giving advice or passing a conclusion may be taken the wrong way by the leader. That’s why I usually preface this question by sharing that being led is an individual experience, and even though I have a style that works overall, it may need some tweaking for individuals.
There was one time when I had been praising a specific employee in public. This was happening over about three years, as they succeeded in areas of their responsibility. One day, they came to my office and told me that when I praise them, it really made them uncomfortable and embarrassed. They asked if I minded, when a pat on the back was to be given, if I would do it in private. I agreed. By asking this question, you may get some great feedback. If they have nothing to share, keep the question on the table. And, if something pops up, they have a green light to come and share their thoughts or give you guidance.
Question Number Four: Where are you in the process of reaching your goals?
One of the best practices I bring to organizations is giving employees 90-day evaluations. Evaluating team members is an important part of personal and professional development. This exercise was put in place for many reasons:
• It made the supervisors pay closer attention to their teams and caused them to interact with them more often.
• At least every quarter, each employee got to sit with their supervisor and visit with them one-on-one.
• There were no surprises at the end of the year when the annual evaluations were given. The employees knew exactly where they stood as they went into the final quarter
• Lastly, it gave the supervisors to an opportunity to assist with goal-setting for personal and professional development.
This practice allows for overall growth, the polishing of skills and the development of new skills that will help team members get to the next level for their overall improvement. When you ask what you can do to help someone reach their goals, it displays your commitment and gives them a sense you truly care about their growth and development.
Maybe you have your own version of these four questions. As we invite individuals into our organization to help us to be successful, it is up to us, the leaders, to give them the very best experience possible. We need to know how best to motivate and how best to inspire, making these questioning techniques a staple that will grow your ability to influence — your most precious resource.