12 Powerful Questions That’ll Make You a Better Manager

on August 24, 2017

Managers are people; we each have our own style, personality, quirks, beliefs, and passions. Naturally, these traits influence how we do our jobs and how we lead our employees. The best managers bring out the best in others. Less-than-stellar managers do what needs to be done to cover their own you-know-whats. Big difference.

One of the most direct routes to being the best manager you can be is to learn how to unleash the potential of your individual employees and your team. This requires desire, intuition, coaching skills, dedication, and the ability to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions give employees a format to share the entire story, not just a piece of it. They help uncover the judgments and attitudes behind words and actions. Most importantly, powerful questions can help employees reach their own conclusions and discover how they can best support, contribute, and deliver desired results for the business, the team, and themselves. Powerful questions are:

  • Open-ended – cannot be answered in a single word, elicit thoughtful responses.
  • Non-judgmental – aren’t leading, and don’t encompass personal views.
  • Provocative – challenge thinking and probe for thoughts employees didn’t know existed.
  • Respectful – consider people’s feelings and emotions to obtain honesty.

Here are 12 Powerful Questions for you to Start Using Today. You’re welcome.

1. What is most important for you to talk about?

What’s #1 on your employee’s mind? This should become important to you, too! Remember, employees bring their whole selves to work. What they may need to talk about may have nothing to do with work, but it may directly impact their performance. Even when you raise a topic, be sure to uncover what’s most important for the employee to discuss within that subject.

2. What are your desired results?

Ask employees about the results they want to achieve. This empowers them to establish goals they can own. Once you, as the manager, understand your employees’ desired results, you can help them shape goals that will support their success.

3. What are your actual results today, and how did they come to be?

Your employees need to understand where they are starting. Then they can identify the gaps to be bridged between actual and desired results. This question can be very revealing as employees talk about things that they believe have held them back. Pay particular attention to this part of the conversation, as it can often confirm or identify the need to readdress what is really most important to talk about (see #1).

4. What’s really happening, and what are the judgments you added to your story?

Coaching employees requires you to help them separate facts from judgments or views, which are subjective. Listen carefully. Your employees might even regard their judgments as beliefs. Your job is to help them understand the difference.

5. What attitude or outlook do you have based on your judgments? 

An employee’s judgments influence their attitudes when working toward desired results. You may witness an “aha” moment when an employee realizes for the first time that achieving the desired results may require a shift on their part.

6. What speech or words are you using, and how is that impacting your ability to achieve the results you want?

Listen carefully to the speech an employee uses to describe current results, attitudes, and judgments. Listen for thinking words, feeling words, and tone of voice. All of these can help or hinder their ability to achieve goals. When an employee considers their speech and tone, they can see the impact on their actions, results, and even the people around them.

7. How are your judgments and attitudes showing up physically? 

Observe and ask about facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, and breathing patterns. Ask employees to pay attention to how they respond physically to their judgments. This will help them recognize ways their judgments affect their physical being. It may be tense shoulders, rolling eyes, or something less noticeable, but these physical manifestations of judgments and attitudes can aid or block success.

8. What actions will your current thinking (judgments, attitude, speech, or physicality) likely inspire?

Help employees create needed shifts in their approach to reaching desired results. Sometimes the slightest adjustment in one area can open up new possibilities. A sustainable shift will occur when people identify the need for it themselves.

9. If nothing was in your way and you knew all would turn out well, what would you do?

Stories your employees tell themselves may prevent them from reaching their goals. They may perceive obstacles that aren’t really there or as insurmountable as they thought. Allowing them to devise solutions with no restrictions or constraints can help them create new stories.

10. May I offer you my observations?

By offering your observations as a coach, you can offer a new lens through which your employees can view themselves. Your employee might agree with your observations or reject them. Either way, you’re helping them gain the clarity needed to shift their judgments. The key here is to ask if you may offer your observations before doing so. This demonstrates respect for their ability and a willingness to listen.

11. What new practices can you put in place to ensure your success?

Asking employees to formulate their new practices allows them to take ownership of the future and gives you a common connection point. Over time, you can check in on their new practices and help determine if they are working or not. This is a perfect opportunity to offer suggestions and brainstorm.

12. Are you willing to take action? By when? And if not, why not?

If an employee is unwilling to take action, you need to focus on exactly what is holding them back and why. This may require greater understanding about your employee’s judgments of the situation at hand. While you may repeat some previously asked questions, you’ll be asking them within a new context – that of an unwillingness to take action. 
If your employee is willing to take action, then proceed! Focus on first steps, timing, accountability, and establishing future coaching conversations. Establishing a timeline can create a sense of urgency and inspire activity toward the goal. It also provides an opportunity to check on progress and coach as needed along the way.

13. Plus one for good luck… As a bonus, always ask “What else?”

This powerful question is so flexible that it can be used at almost any time. Keep this question in mind and incorporate it as needed. It can be difficult for employees to think of everything they want to say in the moment of your meeting. The question “What else?” gives them an opportunity to truly reflect and bring additional thoughts to the surface.

Own these powerful questions and put your own personal spin on them. Test and refine based on what works for your organization and your people. Your unique style combined with these proven questions and active listening are key to facilitating meaningful shifts in your employees’ beliefs, actions, and behaviors.

Suggestion: include a printable of the questions that people can print and cut out and take into a coaching meeting – like index card size design

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