Effective managers know when to ask not tell, when to lead by asking.

Lead by Asking 

Before conducting a seminar on teamwork at a retail outlet, the General Manager told me it was difficult to get people to work outside of their department. The GM went on to share that employees are informed they’re paid to work wherever they’re needed—not only in their department. I asked the GM if the employees had ever been asked how helping other departments could be advantageous to them. They hadn’t been asked. During the presentation I asked the team members:

  • How could interdepartmental help positively affect the customer experience?
  • Could a poor customer experience affect the bottom line?
  • How could lost revenue impact an individual employee?

The staff responded that helping from one department to another could make a huge difference for the customer. Although this retailer has three distinct departments that’s not how the customer views it. If a customer needs help they don’t care what department an employee is assigned to. If an employee is available the customer expects their attention. The team went on to share several reasons they should help each other including how service could affect bonuses. But, I stray from my point. When told to do it their natural inclination was to fight it, but when asked they shared compelling reasons to do just that. The difference was in the asking.

Why Should You Ask?

Because I said so is an old school management technique that never was the most effective method for many situations. Following orders, while necessary in some disciplines, stifles creativity, limits dialogue, and eliminates brainstorming. If you want your team to embrace initiatives, the first step is to engage and involve them. When the retail staff was asked to share their ideas they not only gave the management team a few thoughts to consider, but also made improving interdepartmental teamwork their idea. In this scenario, asking not telling is making a bigger impact. Only two days after the meeting, department managers and employees had put interdepartmental action plans in place to help each other.

Before you decide to use the BIS method (because I said so!) or the old “my way or the highway” approach, consider whether involving the team by asking for their input is a more effective way to accomplish the desired end result. If laws and compliance regulations, policies and procedures, and proven systems aren’t being ignored or circumvented, asking may bring a greater buy-in than telling. So, let me ask you, do you ask often enough? Would asking more often be effective for you, what do you think?

If you’re in leadership and want your direct reports to do more than follow your lead, one of the most powerful tools you possess are questions. If you want them to passionately participate, don’t tell them — ASK them. For much of the 20th century — and into the 21st — management in America has often been about commanding, not leading. Using questions to lead your subordinates is nothing new. The Greek philosopher, Socrates (470-399 BC), taught by asking a series of questions, leading the student to the desired end, or new enlightenment.

Why Lead With Questions?

• The most effective method of team “buy-in” for any project is to make it the team’s plan. By asking questions and sharing thoughts, plans can be formed that transcend any one individual’s ideas thus becoming the team’s vision.

• The team may have a better understanding of how to improve performance or production. If it affects them directly, they probably have a more current and complete understanding than you. Listen and learn.

• Don’t you want to know what your team is thinking — ESPECIALLY if you’re not thrilled about the thought process? If you know what’s on your team’s mind, you can help direct them through questions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

• If you want to know what someone thinks, or you want them to think for themselves, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions such as what, why, and how, call for thoughtful responses.

• Don’t ask leading questions, like, “You agree, don’t you?”, or choice of positives, such as, “Do you want to begin at 7 or 7:30?”, or closed in yes or no questions, like, “Do you know what to do?” These kinds of questions will not engage your team.

What kind of manager do you want to be? Leading subordinates through questions and gathering their input is team building. Their ideas don’t always have to be implemented, but they should be solicited. If you use questions to find out what they know, think, and believe, you’ll be rewarded with new ideas, improved teamwork, and loyal camaraderie.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a  management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

Photo by Elissa Garcia on Unsplash