In the high-pressure world of leadership, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture: people (or, as I like to call them, "spiritual beings"). As a leader, your primary role is not just to manage tasks but to serve your team by equipping them to reach their full potential. How do you do that? By asking the right questions. The questions you ask as a leader serve a dual purpose. First, they offer insight into the health of your team—how aligned, motivated, and engaged they are. Second, they foster a culture of openness and trust. In this blog post, we will discuss ten critical questions that leaders must ask to demonstrate empathy and to foster engagement and excellence among teams. But first, let's discuss the mindset that this approach requires and how mindset relates to authentic, effective leadership.
The Mindset for Asking
The mindset with which a leader approaches these questions — and leadership as a whole — is as crucial as the questions themselves. Authentic leadership is deeply connected to this mindset, revolving around self-awareness, relational transparency, balanced processing, and an internalized moral perspective. Here's why these elements of authentic leadership are intertwined with the mindset needed to ask and act on these questions:
Empathy: The Heart of Relational Transparency
Empathy isn't just about understanding someone else's perspective; it's about feeling alongside them. This is relational transparency in action. Leaders show their true selves to their followers, making it easier for team members to reciprocate. Being empathetic allows leaders to ask questions from a place of genuine care and curiosity, rather than a sense of managerial duty.
Willingness to Engage: A Testament to Self-Awareness and Balanced Processing
A willingness to engage with the team shows that the leader is both self-aware and open to the viewpoints of others. In the framework of authentic leadership, self-awareness is about recognizing one's strengths, weaknesses, and impact on others. Balanced processing requires the leader to objectively analyze all relevant data before making a decision, including team feedback. Being willing to ask questions — and act on them — is a reflection of these two tenets.
Commitment to Excellence: Reflecting an Internalized Moral Perspective
Authentic leaders internalize their values and let these guide their actions, which includes a commitment to delivering the best results possible for their team and organization. The moral perspective here isn't just about ethics in a traditional sense; it also encompasses a dedication to excellence and growth, for oneself and others. By striving for more than just meeting targets or fulfilling responsibilities, leaders can inspire their teams to do the same.
Vulnerability: Acknowledging Your Need for a Team
Authenticity requires vulnerability. Leaders should be willing to admit they don’t have all the answers. Asking questions, especially questions that invite feedback on the leader's performance or the team's direction, requires a level of vulnerability that authentic leaders are comfortable with. This vulnerability can empower team members to speak openly, fostering a culture of trust and collaborative problem-solving.
The Synergy of Mindset and Authentic Leadership
Authentic leadership and the required mindset for asking these crucial questions are in many ways two sides of the same coin. Both require leaders to be aware and present, both emotionally and intellectually. The questions serve as tools that allow these leadership traits to manifest practically, offering a path for the leader and their team to grow together. By aligning your mindset with the principles of authentic leadership, you're not just checking off a managerial to-do list; you're taking steps to cultivate a culture where everyone — including yourself — can thrive.
The 10 Questions Every Leader Should Ask
1. What is your vision for your role within the team? This question allows you to understand how each team member sees their future in the organization, ensuring that their aspirations align with team and company goals.
2. How can I better support you in achieving your goals? Empower your team members by asking them what they need to excel. This can range from resources, training, or even simple emotional support.
3. Is there a challenge you're currently facing that you'd like help with? Identifying obstacles early can prevent minor issues from escalating into significant problems.
4. What's working well, and what could be improved? By asking this question, you encourage a culture of continuous improvement and show that you value both positive and constructive feedback.
5. Do you have any ideas for new initiatives or improvements? Invite innovation. This question makes team members feel valued and heard, fostering a culture of collaboration and ingenuity.
6. How do you feel about the team's current direction? Understanding team morale is critical for course correction and forward momentum.
7. Are you clear on your current priorities and tasks? Alignment and clarity are vital for team performance. Make sure everyone knows what's expected of them.
8. Do you feel your work is aligned with your own values and passions? Purpose-driven work leads to greater engagement. If a team member's tasks align with their personal values, they're more likely to be committed and effective.
9. How do you prefer to receive feedback, and how often? Feedback is a cornerstone of improvement, but its impact varies depending on how it's delivered.
10. What can we do to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment? Creating a culture of inclusion benefits everyone on the team, enriching collaboration and problem-solving.
Leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all discipline; it's a continuous journey of understanding and adapting to your team's needs. As leaders, we must approach these crucial questions with a mindset of empathy, engagement, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. Only then can we transform our teams from mere groups of individuals to cohesive units that innovate, inspire, and succeed together.
Dr. Wanita Mercer, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Lead My Heart, an executive coaching and consulting company specializing in equipping executives and executive teams to live and lead with purpose, passion, and power. She has a Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in organizational leadership, and she is certified in life coaching, executive coaching, change management, project management, executive management, corporate crisis management, and mental health ministry. She has over 15 years of experience as an international educator in the USA and China, motivational speaker, author, and civic leader. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.