Archives August 2022

Never ask how a person is doing. Ask what they are doing.

Never ask how a person is doing. Ask what they are doing.




“I have a cold.”

These answers are not helpful if you, as a leader, are trying to gauge how things are going on your team or in your organization. When someone says, “fine,” they are saying, “thanks for being polite, but you don’t want to know.”

I was a new sergeant in the army.

My section wasn’t performing very well. When I asked how things were going, all I got out of the soldiers was “good,” “fine,” and “OK.”

Then they would trundle off and put half effort into their work.

I wouldn’t say I liked it. My team was not performing … No, it was worse. I wasn’t performing as a leader.

My boss gave me two pieces of advice that day:

1) Never ask, “How are you doing?” Ask, “what are you doing and why are you doing it?”

2) Then: Listen, pause and ask questions.

Read more about giving feedback

When you ask a question, you buy time to absorb what was said to you. He told me, “you can think twice as fast as the other person can talk. So your response should be twice as good.”

Armed with this information, I rephrased the questions I asked my troops.

I soon found out they didn’t know why they were doing what I was asking of them.

Without knowing the “why,” they were unmotivated, uninspired, and demoralized.

Honestly, I didn’t know the “why” of the work. I started asking my bosses better questions and shared the answers. Once they learned they could trust the reason behind what I asked, they were more engaged and often provided better solutions to get it done.

Things I learned:

Always take the time to explain the rationale behind the instructions you are giving. That way, when the time comes that you can’t explain, your people will provide you with the benefit of the doubt and know they can trust you.

Asking simple questions, like “Why?” and giving people time to answer is an unbelievably effective tool.

Without knowing the truth – and the logic – behind a decision, people will make something up.

How to create Leaders, not Followers

We always underestimate the incredible impact of our presence in our organizations.

Walking through the office, around the shop floor or on a project job site can be very revealing.

Read about Absent and Unseen Leaders

Imagine being the leader who learned something new about your organization every time you did a walk around.

Imagine sparking a new conversation about how to do things better every day.

Toilet Seats & Servant Leadership: Two Actions You Must Balance To Ensure Success

Imagine the impact on your team if they felt their work and effort were valued.

What goes on in your workplace that reinforces the concept that you and the people at the top are leaders and everyone else is a follower? You might be startled by how persuasive this is within your organization.

When did you last walk around with a curious intention to see what was happening?

What would it tell you if your people were:

        • Checking with bosses to get permission to go home or take a break
        • Supervisors held meetings to detail only what they expected from their employees
        • Employees had to fill in forms or send emails to get permission to act
        • Only certain positions or ranks, could make certain decisions
        • Supervisors asked questions of their employees to establish authority rather than curiosity & respect
        • Employees report only problems instead of bringing ideas for solutions
        • Conversations between employees and supervisors where subordinates, in effect, were only told what to do.

Next time you talk to your team members, discuss what they see or think with your employees.

Read about the power of not talking during a conversation.

Some questions could be:

        • If you were me, what would you be worried about?
        • Can you describe the decision we need to make here?
        • Can you explain the pros and cons of the decision?
        • I wasn’t here, what would you do?

If you find yourself in a position where you feel like you might need the boss to tell you what needs to be done, try these questions:

        • I don’t want you to tell me what to do here, but can you provide more clarity?
        • What is your overall intention with the project?
        • What would it look like if I was successful?
        • How can I make this more successful for both of us?

The secret to creating Leaders throughout your organisation

Use: ‘I intend to ….’

Read about the 6 Questions To Bring Clarity to Your First Team!

When we give people instructions, we create followers.

When we tell people what our intention is, we create independent-thinking leaders.

I believe that people are already empowered, and by allowing them to understand our intentions, we give them the authority to act upon their empowerment.

To gauge if your people feel disempowered, listen for language like:

        • ‘We’ve always done it the way.
        • I was told, or they told me …
        • What would you like me to do?
        • What should I do about it?
        • Do you think we should …?
        • Tell me what to do.

As Curious Leaders, What Are The Right The Questions to Ask

But to truly empower your people, you should actively use phrases like:

        • I intend to…
        • I would like to…
        • I plan to…
        • I will…
        • Let me give you an update.
        • Here’s what we are thinking about this.

Instead of waiting for an order for the next step, an empowered employee should brief their supervisor with the rationale for the action they are about to take.

Using empowered language builds energetic, emotionally committed employees who begin to think about what needs to be done and the right way to do it. They start thinking aloud about what they intend and at a higher level.

Because you are clear about your intentions, they can articulate and verbalize their intentions to meet your goals.

5 Behaviours at the Heart of a Great Team

‘I intend to …’ creates ownership in goal setting, giving the employee responsibility and increasing commitment to achieving the goal.

Intentions can do more than this; they can significantly increase goal attainment.

Where goals intentions specify a specific endpoint, intentions describe the when, where and how of reaching the goal.


Based on the work by L David Marquet & his book ‘Turn This Ship Around.

How to Become a Better Leader By Asking Better Questions




A quick note from Steve:

This post was recently featured on the Engineering Management Institute Website. 

It is addressed to engineering leaders, but the content is equally applicable to all leaders.

I am proud to have received the Engineering Management Institute’s ‘Top Author’ designation.




Being an engineering leader is about understanding what is going on around you.

In the military, it is called “Situational Awareness.” Often, the people with the most pertinent information about the situation are those working for you.

Questions are powerful tools and knowing how to ask them is key to becoming a better engineering leader.

How to Ask Questions

How to ask the right questions in the right way?

Ask your questions like you care and want to know the answers. You’re not reading from a script — ask with sincerity.

You asked, so be prepared to hear answers that you may not like and be sure to take the time to listen genuinely.

The answer you need may not come forth the first time you ask. But if you ask sincerely and humbly, you will build trust and confidence. So ask regularly, and the quality of the information you gather will improve.

Read about the six things you need to communicate.

What Questions to Ask

These are the five questions to ask your team members every month, as well as why you should ask them:

What is your biggest accomplishment this month?

This question provides a sense of forwarding motion and progress.

When workers relate positive information, it gives them a sense of personal achievement.

Answers give you both oversight and performance improvement potential.

You get an understanding as to if people are contributing in the ways you need them to.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

You can begin to understand where the employee is struggling.

You can learn about pinch points in an employee’s process, work, or company culture.

It puts your conversation into problem-solving mode because when you know where your team member is struggling, you can do something about it.

Read how not to Eff Up talking to your people.

What things should we do differently, or what processes can we improve?

People understand that things can be done differently, so being open to feedback from “below” can be invaluable.

When team members recognize that they can provide value beyond their job description, you can harness this power to improve the company.

You may not always act on every suggestion, but you’re going to discover some things that genuinely need to change.

What resources would be helpful to you right now?

By using the word “resources,” you’re opening the door beyond money.

What you might think employees need is often different from what they want.

Don’t assume the solution is more people or money  — trust the people working on the project to understand what will solve the issue.

Read about how to listen.

Is there anything I can help you with?

It allows you to understand any personal factors that may influence their work.

It lets your employees know you’re a real human being and care about their success and well-being.

You improve your working relationship with them by showing sincere interest in their life and