There’s a strategy to asking questions that effective leaders use to drive results. That strategy is asking the right questions. Questions that motivate employees. Leaders who use this strategy are light years ahead of leaders who don’t ask questions strategically. And knowing the questions you should be asking your team members (and then actually asking them!) is a surefire way to build a powerhouse team that is inspired and unstoppable. Among my top strategies for effective leadership, this one is really high on the list. 

The Strategy Works

Why does this strategy work? Because questions spur critical thinking, introspection, analysis, ideas, and can even trigger an honest answer that was being held back. This kind of thinking, this honesty, is what drives necessary changes in an organization. If there’s one thing I want to know, it’s what employees are NOT saying. I want to know, no, I need to know what my team is holding back. Because often the best ideas, the kind of ideas that can move an organization forward, are the ideas people are afraid to say. There are lots of reasons employees don’t share these ideas. But it mostly revolves around psychological safety. You must provide a culture of psychological safety where your team members feel confident they can be authentic, open, honest, brainstorm, and share their ideas without fear of non-constructive criticism or embarrassment.

The Foundation is Trust

Effective leaders understand that success in business is all about relationships. You know, whether it’s your executive team or your entire team, the goal is to build trust which is so critical in relationships. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.

You don’t have to be at the top of the organization to think this way either. This is a philosophy that is important in all aspects of life. Any quality relationship is based on trust.

The best leaders create and nurture a culture where relationships matter. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, it all starts with the leadership. I’m not the only one who says this, either. You need to create an environment where people can easily believe they’re valued and cared about by folks at every level of the organization – because they genuinely are.

Know Your People

The best leaders make it a priority to learn what motivates every person on the team. This is where asking the right questions can really be a great guide. Remember also, that there are different phases of life, so what motivates a team member this year will be ever-changing as they experience the different seasons of their lives. The only way you can stay on top of what’s going to motivate them is to ask the right questions and stay connected.

It goes deeper than just the specific types of questions to ask, too. It’s important to keep your objectivity but understand that everybody is motivated differently.

Again, motivating your team members means staying in touch with reality and asking the right questions.

Getting-to-know-you questions are the basic ones:

  • How are you doing?
  • What’s happening in your world? 
  • What are you doing for fun? 
  • Do you have any plans for the weekend?

It’s amazing how far you can go by just giving a shit. I said it. And, here’s a big one, ask them one thing that they’re grateful for personally, and one thing they’re grateful for professionally. This keeps the focus positive.

The Questions You Should Be Asking

Here they are, the two types of strategic questions that will motivate: Effective leaders motivate team members with a good blend of questions that support and challenge. You’ll be good at one by nature, more than the other. But you’ve got to learn to be good at asking both types of questions.

Supportive Questions:

A supportive question is any question you can ask that will help you encourage, inspire and de-hassle. These are invaluable:

  • Is there anything you need?
  • Is there a problem I can help solve?
  • Is there a decision I can help make?
  • Is the goal or direction clear? 
  • Should we bring in another resource to help?
  • What’s not happening that you want to happen?
  • How can I support you?

And supportive questions show that you care. And you know what? Sometimes, just saying, “I care about you” or “I appreciate you” goes a long way.

Challenging Questions:

Challenging questions prompt idea generation, creativity, and solutions. They can also apply some pressure to rise to a challenge and grow. From a challenging perspective, remember that not everybody can handle being challenged, so again, know your people.

So, when I think of examples of challenging questions, these come immediately to mind:

  • What should we do differently?
  • What should we STOP doing?
  • What is it that you’re not saying?
  • How can you support your team members better?
  • What books are you reading? 
  • How are you prioritizing self-development?
  • If you were in my seat, what’s one thing you would immediately do differently to make a significant, positive impact on the organization?
  • What could we be doing differently to be more efficient?
  • How could we be doing XYZ better?

Depending on the department, the questions can be more specific. If you’re talking to sales or marketing, you can ask questions like:

  • We have been growing at 20% YOY what is stopping us from growing at 40%? 
  • If the traffic is X, how can we increase it? Better yet, how can we increase our conversion of leads? Traffic is great but we need leads.

The More Factor

The most effective leaders challenge their team members to:

  • Deliver superior results
  • Dream bigger 
  • Give more
  • Overcome 
  • Be more supportive to their own teams
  • And make sure that they are putting the interest of the organization first

Always reaching for more and asking thought-provoking questions that can change the whole paradigm is a powerful and positive way to challenge your team. Ideally, you’re asking questions to support and challenge with the goal of reaching the best ideas and executing them. All of the questions tie into business strategy, execution, optimization, and making necessary changes to drive results. And remember, the best ideas can come from anyone!

The Results

Nurturing trusting relationships and asking questions that support and challenge will result in finding out what your team members are not saying and uncovering the best ideas. Effective leaders seek the hard truths. This can be scary, but it’s oh-so-critical. After all, you’re building a business you want to scale. The only way to accomplish this is by hiring great people and letting them run. They’re not going to run if they’re holding back or being held back. You don’t put a saddle on a bronco. Right? So, define what success looks like, guide them, give them the best tools and resources, motivate, challenge, and let the awesome people you’ve hired run. Succeed or fail, keep running! All of this goes towards building the trusting relationships that motivate and inspire, which is what good leaders do best. 

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Get to know your folks and build enough trust so your questions impact answers and ideas that will win for your business.

Because ultimately, it all comes down to this: May the best idea win. Always and forever. So ask the right questions, communicate with purpose, and know your people. Because the best ideas come from great people and you should aspire to create an organization where those ideas will flow freely.