10 Questions Your Team Is Afraid to Ask

Your team has questions they’re afraid to ask. They’ve got limited information, but they figure if you wanted to tell them you would. They worry that raising the issue will look like insubordination, or somehow make them look less in your eyes. Maybe you can share, maybe you can’t. But that doesn’t make the questions go away. There is value in anticipating the questions that may be on people’s minds and to start the conversation. I’ve been asking around for input into one simple question “What question would you most like to ask your leadership (but are afraid to).”I’ve also been asking a similar question of the leaderhip consultants and coaches I hang around, “What questions do you think employees are most afraid to ask their leaders?” Here are the top 10. Please add yours.

10 Questions Your Teams Afraid to Ask

  1. Why are we doing it this way?
  2. How’s our company really doing?
  3. Why didn’t you ask us?
  4. Why is _____________ not dealt with?
  5. If I speak up, will it hurt my brand?
  6. Do you think I’m ready for a promotion?
  7. Why is there so much turnover ?
  8. How can we get past this feeling of constant crises?
  9. Is this really as urgent as you’re making it out to be?
  10.  ________________________ (what’s your #10?)

Conversation Starters

If you want your team to ask more of their scary questions, here are a few ways you can start the conversation.

  • If I were you, I might be wondering…
  • The last time something like this happened I had a lot of questions such as __________
  • I just read this blog post about questions your team’s afraid to ask, and it made me wonder, what questions do you have that I might be able to answer 😉

Ignoring the tough questions, doesn’t make them go away. In fact, your team is likely asking the questions, to themselves and to one another. Tackling the tough conversations head on will go a long way in building trust and respect on your team.

Great Mid Year Review Questions

Mid year reviews are a like the half-time huddle of your performance Superbowl. If your company doesn’t require them, do them anyway. If your boss doesn’t have one planned for you, ask for one.

They’re great times to summarize, celebrate, challenge and inspire. If you’re not convinced, or need help getting started read last year’s post: How to Conduct a Meaningful Mid-Year Review

Use this time to ask great questions that inspire deeper thinking and build meaningful connection.

Voltaire on questions: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Mid-Year Questions to Reflect on Performance

  • How are you feeling about the year so far?
  • How would you describe what’s happening with this project?
  • What are you most of proud of this year?
  • What lessons have you learned?
  • What new relationships have you fostered?
  • How are you different now than you were 6 months ago?
  • What new skills have you developed?
  • Where are you stuck?

Mid-Year Questions to Challenge and Turnaround

Bono on questions: “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”

  • Have you ever had an experience like this before? What did you do that helped at that time?
  • What patterns do you see?
  • What do you think we should do?
  • Which habits would you like to change?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do to turn this situation around?
  • What additional resources do you need?
  • How can I best support you?

Mid-Year Questions to Encourage

  • What would it look like if?
  • What would happen if?
  • What’s possible?

Mid-Year Questions to Solicit Feedback

  • If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing differently?
  • What can I do to better support you and the team?
  • What have I done this year that most ticked you off?
  • What am I doing that’s most helpful to you?

8 Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Every time “Elizabeth” asks her boss, Carol for feedback, Carol tells her she’s “doing great.” But this is Elizabeth’s 5th year in the same job and she’s starting to wonder. She’s watched peers who don’t seem any more qualified get promoted or selected for special assignments.

Her performance reviews are always solid, but never outstanding. She likes her job and the people she works with, but she’s beginning to feel like she’s treading water. Her mentor tells her, “just ask your boss,” but every time Elizabeth’s tried to approach the subject, she’s chickened out.

Elizabeth needs to set up a meeting with her boss just on this topic, rather than trying to squeeze it in as a footnote to some other meeting. She should also do it outside the context of a formal performance review. Let this be its own event. Here is an approach, I’ve developed to help Elizabeth– maybe you will find it helpful too.

Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Start by sharing how interested you are in her insights. A little flattery can never hurt in this arena 😉 Express your desire for deeper feedback that will help you be more effective for the company. Ask for specifics that will help you identify some new behaviors to increase your effectiveness.

Take it all in and step back and consider the possibilities from the conversation. You don’t have to agree with it all, but if you want to open the door for richer insights, it’s important that you respond well.

Of course, you don’t want to bombard your boss with all of the these in one sitting, but here are some options to get the conversation started. It matters less what you ask, then just getting the dialogue started.

  1. What’s the most important priority for our team this year? 
  2. What do your peers say about me?
  3. If your boss were to give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  4. Who should I be working with more closely?
  5. What could I be doing to make your job easier?
  6. To what do you attribute your own career success?
  7. How can I be more effective in that area?
  8. Which parts of my style concern you the most?
  9. Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for ___________ (insert the job or assignment you are most interested in here).

You have more power in your career than you may think.  Take the time to invest in yourself by starting a good dialogue with your boss.

The Benefits of Deeper Questions

Why don’t you ask deeper questions? Are you more afraid of the questions or the answers?

Deeper questions

  • Uncover concerns
  • Shift the conversation
  • Invite transparency
  • Shift the mood
  • Provoke deeper thinking

Asking Deeper Questions

“Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”Rainer Maria Rilke

Asking Deeper Questions of Yourself

It starts by asking yourself deeper questions. In her TED Talk Christine Comaford, shares the importance of finding “your one big question.” The finding (and answering) of this “question” is a way to “intentionally evolve. She invites listeners to 1) reveal yourself 2) stand for yourself and 3) get still as you look for your questions.

Asking Deeper Questions Of Others

When, asking questions of others, pause and give yourself time to formulate the best question. Proactively plan your deeper questions as you plan your day. Make a point of asking at least one deeper question in any significant meeting you attend.

Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas and StoryCorps are great resources to help you plan deeper questions for a variety of circumstances.

I asked Andrew Sobel to share the best questions for three of the most challenging topics for frontline leaders: dealing with disengagement, building confidence, and helping someone feeling overwhelmed.

“Sometimes the simplest question is the best. For example, ask your people often, ‘What do you think?’ Or, ‘How can I be helpful to you right now?’ Ask personal questions–‘How did you get your start?’ Turn statements into questions. Instead of, ‘We really need to burn the midnight oil if we’re going to hit our targets this month” ask “Here’s what we’re up against. What are your thoughts?”
~Andrew Sobel

Addressing Disengagement

  1. What is the one thing we could do to make it easier for you to do your job effectively? 
  2. What can I do to help you be more effective in your job? 
  3. What makes you proud—or not proud—to work here? 
  4. What’s the most and least engaging part of your work? 

Building Confidence

  1. What options are you considering right now? 
  2. What do you think are the pros and cons? 
  3. What do you think you should do? 
  4. What is most puzzling or difficult about this?
  5. What have you done in the past in similar or analogous situations? 
  6. What’s your biggest unanswered question about this situation?
  7. Who do you think has the right experience to help you with this? 

Helping the Overwhelmed

  1. What’s something that’s very hard to do for you but which would really help you be more successful? If there were no constraints—what could help make it happen? 
  2. How can I help you right now?
  3. What people or resources would be helpful to you right now? 

Mentoring Moments: Just in Time Support

Someone asks you to be their mentor. You’re not sure you can commit. It’s a lot of time, and you’re already overloaded. Plus you’ve mentored in several formal mentoring programs and it felt forced and awkward.

Formal programs can stifle a good relationship. Even organic relationships can lose steam with too much structure. Worse, many connections never start for fear of commitment.

Mentoring Moments

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” -Phil Collins

Instead of saying, “yes! I’ll be your mentor,” or “I’m sorry, I can’t at this time,” how about a simple, “I’d be happy to talk with you.” Keep it natural. Find time to connect. Figure out why they thought of you. Help where you can. Connect them to others who can support. If it makes sense to set a follow-up, do that. Don’t get stuck mentoring past helpfulness. Growing leaders can benefit from a series of mentoring moments with a broad spectrum of leaders. You will learn from these moments too.

Tips for a Making Great Mentoring Moments

  • Ask lots of questions
  • Work on a specific skill
  • Pull out the answers
  • Provide information and encouragement
  • Help them ask “why?”
  • Dust them off when they fail
  • Encourage self-reflection
  • Serve as sounding board
  • Remove obstacles
  • Uncover resources
  • Create additional connections

10 Mentoring Moment Sentence Starters

  • Have you thought about.
  • What do you think would happen if.
  • Why do you think that happened?
  • Who should you involve?
  • When is the best time to do this?
  • Why are you pursuing that approach?
  • Which are the most important goals?
  • What will happen next?
  • Why does that make you so angry?
  • Who can help?

The Obvious Question: And How to Get It Right

In most organizations an important part of leading is being able to articulate and “sell” the great work of your team to other key stakeholders. Strong results and quality thinking in bad packaging can be overlooked. A great presentation can quickly go south, when the team gives sloppy answers to obvious questions.

In her book, Speak Like A CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Better Results, Suzanne Bates cautions leaders to “expect the expected.” Although this seems obvious, it’s the inability to answer the easy and obvious questions that I have seen derail operations reviews, sales pitches, and careers. She shares,

“When Ted Kennedy announced he was running for president, Roger Mudd sat him down in a famous interview and asked, “Why are you running for President?” Kennedy stammered though the answer, and the result was disastrous to his candidacy. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is failing to expect the expected.”

Some Obvious Questions That Trip People Up

.Here are some examples of questions I have asked recently, or have heard others ask in contexts where I was sure the team knew the answers. For one reason or another, they got stuck.

  • Why have your results improved so substantially?
  • What was different in August?
  • How do you know?
  • How does this compare to your competition?
  • What’s changed since implementing this program?
  • How do you know it’s working?
  • What are the employees saying about the change, how do you know?
  • How do you know this is sustainable?
  • What would a pilot teach us?
  • What do you want to do next?
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • What are you looking for in this mentoring relationship?

Prepare for the Obvious Questions

My experience is that most of this problem comes from over-preparation, rather than under-preparation. Teams spend so much time on all the detail memorizing facts and figures, studying charts that they forget to look up and join the conversation. They’ve prepared for the hardball questions, but miss the easy pitch coming straight down center field.

Here’s some things that can help:

  • Have a talk track, be prepared for a detour
  • Brainstorm all possible questions in advance
  • Practice the answers out loud
  • Do a dry-run with good questioners, ask them to ask tough ones
  • LISTEN carefully to the question actually being asked
  • Consider who is asking the question and why
  • If needed, pause before answering, think before talking
  • NEVER make up an answer, when in doubt take a note and a commitment to circle back

A Question of Intimidation: Questions that Shut People Down

Questions are powerful. They can motivate, and inspire deeper thinking.

Great questions empower.

Questions can also intimidate, frustrate and shut down people down.

The most dangerous are those where the leader already “knows” the answer and is looking to see if the person will “get it right.” Closed ended questions can have a similar impact, if the leader only wants to hear “yes” or “no.”

Such “tests” may have their occasional place in ops reviews and interviews, but the side effects can be deadly as a general leadership practice.

Questions that Intimidate and Disengage:

These questions seem to rear their ugly heads most frequently under times of stress and urgency precisely when more calm and creative thinking would be most beneficial.

  • What do I have to do to get you to.
  • Why did you do that?
  • Did I ask you to do that?
  • Is that really working?
  • What is your experience in this area?
  • Who gave you the authority to make that decision?
  • Is that your final decision?
  • Are you sure about that?
  • What makes you think that will work?
  • ???

In Dan Rockwell’s post, Too Many Questions, he shares that teams asking “too many questions” can be a symptom of a micromanaging leader. He shares too many questions can come from “delegating tasks versus results, vision and resources.”

If employees are intimidated or fearful, they may ask questions in order to keep from “getting it wrong.” In that environment, the leader is limiting herself to her own thinking. Such leadership diminishes the current scene and future team functioning.

It’s a cycle. If a leader asks too many closed-ended or intimidating questions, the team gets scared and starts asking more questions to ensure they get it “right.” The sad truth is that this cycle limits creativity and diminishes productivity. In this case, only one brain is really doing the thinking.

What questions do you find most intimidating?

Hold that Question: The Art of Big Questions, Held Long

I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of big questions. As leaders, our days can become so full of questions which we feel immediate pressure to ask and answer.

As leaders it is also vital that we ask the big, tough questions.

“The number one difference between a Nobel prize winner and others is not their IQ or work ethic, but that they sit with the questions longer.”
~Peter Drucker

In her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman, challenges leaders to reflect.

What is the question you are asking yourself this year?”

If you are going to sit with a question for an entire year, you better make it good.

She has some great ones:
What would cause other people to become smarter and more capable around me?

What could people figure out on their own if I just gave them more space?

How can I get the full brainpower of my team or organization?

In his post, The Power of Why, Ted Coine also inspires the bigger questions. He challenges senior leaders to question “why” they do the things they’ve always done. He asks…

  • You offer financial performance incentives to your sales people. Why?
  • You have a traditional hierarchy and a vast bureaucracy to enable it. Why?
  • You set budgets once annually, which drive decisions throughout the year. Why?
  • You eat lunch at your desk, and many of your people do as well. Why?

Once leaders have asked the big questions, Julie Giulioni encourages them to sit with them a while. In Closing the Door on Closure, she advocates for leaving questions open to see what emerges.

“Organizations might generate better solutions and capitalize on this motivation toward closure by putting business problems and opportunities out to others and letting them sit and percolate for a while rather than forcing an immediate (and sometimes sub-optimal) solution.”

How Questions Grow

My team has actually be sitting with a big question for several months now, “how do we become more influential leaders?” The thing is that big questions lead to more questions, which lead to action, which lead to more questions, which lead to conversation, which lead to more action. I am digging the big question thing.

Turns out, this year, I have also been carrying around a big question, “How can I help leaders to grow?” It started smaller.

  • How can I help my team to grow?
  • How can I help my kids to grow?
  • How do I need to grow?

But now there is a cycle swirling of leading, writing, leading, connecting, speaking, connecting, leading, writing and the big question just gets bigger, How can I help leaders to grow? It’s a question worth a lifetime of thinking.

What’s Your Big Question?

And now for the big question.

What question are you asking yourself this year?

  • What question energizes and inspires you?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What big question could you be asking your team?
  • What big question could you be taking to your boss for consideration?
  • What’s the big question worth holding in your heart?

 

Team Trouble? How to Build a Team One Person at a Time

My phone rang again this week. It was a front-line leader I have known for years having team trouble.

“I can’t get them motivated. They just don’t seem to care like I do. I am not sure what to do, I’ve tried everything.”

I have received this same call many times over the years, not from this person but from others in similar circumstances.

When the frustration level hits a wall like that, I go back to my most fundamental belief about team building: great teams are built one person at a time.

Until that fundamental trust is built between the leader and each individual team member, team meetings will likely remain superficial and team builders won’t get much traction.

Also, it’s a lot less daunting to think about how you can empower one person’s success, rather than feeling like you need to influence an entire team all at once.

Doing this involves meeting the person where they are. And as Dan Rockwell suggests, adapting your style the person you are working to influence.

Steps for One Person at a Time Team Building

Set the stage with the group

  • Start positive: express your commitment to their development
  • Be careful not to position it as fixing something broken
  • Let the team know you will be reaching out to set up individual meetings

Prepare by thinking about your impressions of each person

  • What are they most proud of?
  • What do they care most about?
  • What excites them?
  • What’s their biggest strength?
  • What seems to scare them?
  • Who do they respect? Why?
  • What is their role on the team?
  • What do they want to do next?

Hold individual discussions

  • Ask some of the questions above
  • Really listen
  • Resist the urge to comment or challenge, take it all in
  • Consider: what surprised you? What did you learn?
  • Agree on one or two key actions with measurements of success
  • Pick one great thing and ask them to share back at the next team meeting
  • Establish time to check in

On the side

  • Find time to learn more about who they are and what they do outside of work
  • Share a bit about yourself and look for common interests
  • Look for opportunities to work with them on something fun
  • Encourage opportunities for team members to work together

Incorporate some highlights into future team meetings

  • Start with asking each team member to share something they are proud of
  • Ask them to share a best practice or teach something
  • Have them share wins around their key actions

Please share your experiences what team building techniques have worked best for you?

Questions of Influence: Asking Questions that Inspire Results

How can we best ignite change and inspire growth, when we don’t have control?

Later this month, I am bringing about 100 folks together to chat about influence. We will create space to share our stories. And take an honest look at how we roll.

“Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our souls. Our influence is determined by the quality of our being.”
~Dale E. Turner

Questions of Influence

What is influence?

Why does it matter?

What skills are most vital?

How do we build them?

What if our influence isn’t working?

What if you went back through your life and gave out “most influential awards”?

Who would win?

Why?

Did they have power and control?

Or was it something else…?

The Charisma Experiment Continues: Questions for Olivia

Last week, I was inspired to read The Charisma Myth, by Olivia Fox Cabane, and wrote a post on the subject, Got Charisma: and Invitation to Experiment. I am now stuck on the questions surfacing in my mind. I am finding others bringing great questions to the exploration. We are all learning and having a lot of fun.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

The author of the Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane, also read the post, and responded with an inspiring offer to participate in my follow-up blog by answering the top questions from my readers trying out her techniques. Game on.

 Since I began paying more attention to charisma, everywhere I go, I notice charisma or the lack there of. It’s amazing what happens when you start focusing on something. I watch my behavior and that of others. How we show up matters– a lot. People respond to different levels of authenticity, poise, facial expressions and conversational patterns.

I first read the book because it is mid year appraisal time, and I was looking to help some team members explore a few questions.

  • Would it be useful for them to be more charismatic?
  • What would that look like?
  • And the deeper question, what is charisma anyway?

My new charisma lens was still on as I was reading, Why People Fail, by Simon Reynolds on the plane this Sunday to a leadership conference. Fantastic book overall, with great thinking and insights. He explains that presentation skills are vital. Agreed. However, I was really disappointed to see that his list of “great speakers” to study and emulate, he did not include a single woman.

I will work on a list for a later post (and please feel free to comment on suggestions).

Of course, the leadership conference was filled with inspiring women speakers and participants (turns out there are quite a few dynamic role models he could have included). Charisma was oozing from the woodwork in various shapes and forms. I was incredibly inspired by the messages and equally intrigued by the presentation and interaction dynamics. More questions.

  • Who was capturing attention? Why?
  • What worked best for speakers?
  • What worked best in small groups?
  • What worked better over coffee vs. dinner with wine?
  • What body language helped? What was distracting?
  • What was I doing? How was it being received?

And, so I re-issue the invitation to participate in the experiment from my original post.

Here’s the deal:

Step 1: Let me know you have an intention to explore (letsgrowleaders@gmail.com)

Step 2: Read the book or take a look at her website

Step 3: Pick 1 or 2 techniques or behaviors you will try during the next month

Step 4: Take a few notes on the impact, and share them with me by commenting on this post or emailing me.

Step 5: Gather your questions for Olivia Fox Cabane, and send them to me and I will pick the top ones to share with her for her response and comments

Step 6: Enjoy the journey

In order to give everyone enough time to read and play with the concepts, I will ask for feedback and questions for Olivia by August 20th.

****

Here’s a few questions to guide your thinking (answer any that you like, i will share confidentially, unless you want to be quoted)

  • Why did participate in this journey?
  • What behaviors did you chose? Why?
  • What worked? What didn’t?
  • Will you continue to use the technique, Why or why not?
  • What else?

Thanks for playing! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas.

Namaste,

Karin

 

Beginning With Questions

Beginning well is an art. Taking a deliberate approach to how we start something new, can lay the groundwork for future success.

Firefighters Beginning Well

Last night I had fish tacos with about 20 firefighters.

Well, not actually real firefighters– yet, that will happen tomorrow after graduation.

This was a team of new “recruits” finishing their 12 week, intense, training academy ready to begin their new lives of public service.

The tacos were not remarkable, but the energy and excitement in the air was palpable. This was a group of folks up to something. Each recruit I spoke with had a different background and reason for joining. What they had in common was the passionate expression that this is what they “were meant to do” next in their lives.

What a feeling to be surrounded by new beginnings.

What struck me most throughout the evening was the intense level of questioning.

Mostly I heard the questions these recruits were asking themselves. It was an interesting parade of extroverted self-reflection.

  • What is the most important contribution I will make?
  • How will I respond to fear?
  • What will this mean for my family?
  • What will my role be on the team?
  • What if?

As leaders, the questions we ask ourselves are vital, particularly as we start something new.

Here are a few questions I find my self pondering as I enter a new gig or start work with a new team.

Leadership Questions for Beginning Well

About the Work

  • What one thing will our organization be known for above all else?
  • Where can we have the biggest impact to the big scene?
  • What’s the most broken?
  • What shouldn’t we change, no matter what?

About the People

  • Who are the rock stars, and what do they need?
  • Who is already leading this team?
  • Who can I help?

About Me

  • What strengths must I leverage to lead this team well?
  • What mistakes did I make in my last role, which I can’t make again?
  • Which of my weaknesses are likely to surface here?
  • Who do I need to call on for help?

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