Category Performance Management

27 Powerful Open-Ended Leadership Questions

The goal of a leader is to ensure that your team finds a solution to their problem.

To do that, they have to know what the problem is. You must know how to ask open-ended leadership questions to ensure successful conversations. Open-ended questions are essential for any leadership strategy because they allow you to understand your employee’s wishes and needs with subtlety.

What Is an Open-Ended Leadership Question?

An open-ended question is not one with a simple answer. When understanding an employee’s motivations and goals, you don’t want curt “yes” or “no” answers; you want them to deliberate and talk at length.

You want to know their point of view, and open-ended questions make that happen. The more the employee says in response to the first question, the more details you have to ask further questions.

The clearest example of an open-ended versus a closed-ended question is “Do you have any questions?” versus “What questions can I answer?”. The first could prompt a simple “no,” and then there is a lull in the conversation. The second, however, starts your listener to deliberate longer and ask several questions they may not have thought of.

Questions usually asked by leaders include fact-gathering questions, goal-oriented questions, and rapport-building questions. All of these are good and useful to the leadership process, but each needs to allow for an open-ended answer and tie in with the larger goals and needs of the employee.

Benefits of Open-Ended Question

Many things, asking open-ended questions equips you with better leadership skills. For example:

  • It allows you to build trust and rapport with the employee, as it demonstrates your interest.
  • You can learn more about the employee wants and preferences and define needs, goals, challenges, and other data.
  • It places you as the expert in the discussion, presenting your value. 

Open-Ended Rapport-Building Questions

Rapport-building questions start the conversation, get your employees talking, and help you understand the person you’re working with. It can also make you both more comfortable with a more personal connection and allow you to begin gathering the necessary information.

Examples:

    • Can you tell me about your priorities for this meeting?
    • What is your background?
    • How is business going?
    • Please tell me about your upcoming plans for the year.
    • What would you like to see improve?
    • What is your biggest challenge right now?
    • Could you list your concerns in this area?

 Open-Ended Qualifying Questions

These questions can help determine the interest level of your employee in how you’ve approached the conversation. It can also let you know how to proceed. Not every employee will buy what you’re selling, and it’s essential to figure out how much an employee is committed.

Examples:

    • What is your timeline for this to be resolved?
    • What do you see as the next steps moving forward?
    • How do you decide this?
    • When should you assess these solutions?
    • How should we move forward after this?

 

Open-Ended Priority Questions

These questions help discover and address your employees’ roadblocks or concerns and further understand their priorities and needs. These questions should be carefully constructed so as not to steer the conversation toward something that can’t be fixed. Be sure to treat each employee individually, and don’t assume you know their priorities based only on similar customers.

Examples:

  • What would you like to achieve in the upcoming year?
  • How is that problem changing how you operate?
  • What isn’t working in the current setup?
  • What improvements are you hoping to gain from this?
  • What would prevent you from making this change right now?

 Open-Ended Discovery Questions

A discovery question should be clarifying and probing, provoking thought and deliberation in your employee. The better you understand the employee’s wishes, the better you can tailor a solution to their needs.

Examples:

    • What are your intentions for the future?
    • Can you elaborate on that?
    • What are your reservations?
    • What needs to be fixed with the current process?
    • What have I not covered that you’d like to hear more about?

 Open-Ended Goal-Based Questions

These help you discover the wishes and wants of your employees if you listen closely. When you know what’s holding them back from achieving their goals, you can better assist them with a solution. Focusing on the benefits of your product and how they attune to the purposes of the employee can also help close a deal.

Examples:

    • Why do you think this solution isn’t working?
    • How is the problem affecting your work?
    • What do you want this meeting to achieve?
    • How should we assess the success of this?
    • What could we do to avoid similar problems?

 Responding to the Answers to Open-Ended Questions

Be sure to ask your questions without rushing into them or being pushy. Show your genuine interest. Your questions should make your employees talk for as long as they want, and you must be sure to listen to them and provide helpful conversation. Be patient and don’t interrupt; everything you hear can benefit a sale.

Learning How to Ask the Right Questions

Increasing your experience with leadership discussions will allow you to keep a better ear out for helpful information.

When you know what to look for, you will find that subsequent conversations will go easier.

8 Tips On How You Can Avoid My 4:00AM Regrets

You are not your 2 AM conversations;

not your 3 AM nightmares;

not your 4 AM regrets

Mark Dimaisip

I don’t mind telling you that business could always be better.

Or I miss the energies created by surrounding myself with a powerful team.

Or that I am often awake at 4:00.

So maybe that is why Mark Dimaisip’s poem resonated with me, as did the Hidden Brain podcast episode on regret.

Everyone has regrets.

Some say regret is the most common emotion.

Amy Summerville, who runs the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio, says:

‘we ruminate thoughts that spring unwanted to mind, and we chew them over without getting anything new out of them, they’re just repeatedly, intrusively, becoming part of our mental landscape.’

We don’t have time for all of my regrets; besides, that is why they invented rye.

But I would like to touch on my three leadership regrets that run rampant in my mind at 4:00 AM

1. Anger

Given the right set of triggers, I have a temper that can flash and lash out.

I’ve written about this and don’t understand where it comes from.

When it happens, it diminishes me, my leadership, my organization, and my people.

I have learned to manage it by being more aware of situations that may trigger the flash and trying to excuse myself, walk away, and disengage.

Read More About Not Being An Ass

2. Mediocrity

Far too often, I have allowed people to push me toward mediocrity.

As leaders, we know the right thing to do, yet people and systems cause us to settle.

And when we settle, nobody is happy.

People-pleasing only creates soup sandwiches, a mess where no one is satisfied.

Read More About Soup Sandwiches

3. Kindness

The business decisions I regret the most are those I wish I had acted out with more kindness.

Too often, I made decisions based on what I, our bosses or the mission demanded.

Decisions are made without humanity and care for the people impacted.

I know some of the decisions I have made hurt people.

That doesn’t make them wrong or even bad decisions.

But I wish I could get mulligans on a few where I could have been more honest, kind, and generous.

 

Final Thoughts

My experience tells me that your leadership experience would undoubtedly be happier with less anger, less mediocrity, and more kindness.

Happiness is a choice.

Focus on the positives.

Be self-aware.

Practice deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful actions.

Understand that ambition and success will not lead to a life of fewer regrets.

Don’t get caught up in what you don’t have.

Be mindful and purposeful of the opportunities right in front of you.

The Best New Year Letter An Employee Could Ever Write You

Mrs. CEO,

I am one of your employees.

I work in operations, and I don’t have a fancy title.

I like working here, I like what I do, and I love my career. My role here has grown in ways I never expected, and I am thrilled with my job’s direction.

I wanted to write you because I only saw you at last year’s Zoom Christmas party or on the website, but I never had the chance to talk to you.

I understand that you are super busy running the company, travelling, and keeping stakeholders & shareholders happy.

And I didn’t want to come off as a whiner, but I wanted to share a few of the things that I see, but you might not notice:

Corporate Strategy – I know your executive teams think about Strategy from time to time.

But at my level, I know my tasks, but I have no idea how I contribute to the company’s success. When I asked my supervisor, he threw his hands up and said It didn’t matter because Corporate had no idea.

Read why your employees don’t give a rat’s $%^# about your precious Strategy.

Company Values – Our corporate values look good on the banner and the website, but it doesn’t seem to impact me.

There are roadblocks everywhere to getting our work done.

And it seems better to keep our mouths shut than try to tell a supervisor about problems.

Read about values and keeping employees.

Performance – I have been passed over for a promotion several times. It never seems fair because nobody has ever taken the time to explain why.

I want to get promoted or get a raise, but the process seems mysterious, and nobody knows how the system works.

Read about avoiding performance management fails.

Town halls & Teleconferences – I think I know what you are trying to do, but they are hours long and full of last year’s numbers and technical jargon.

Read about how not to screw up talking to your employees

The company you describe in your presentations sounds like Google, and as much as I want to believe your description, it doesn’t feel that way.

I struggle to know why you see a different picture of the company than we do.

I try to have a positive attitude and look for ways to contribute more, but the people I work with are frustrated and discouraged. No one seems to know what is going on, the reorganization a few months ago was nerve-racking, and we are all a bit scared.

I want success for the company because I like it here. But I must admit, I am struggling to understand why our managers are not trained to help us get there.

Maybe you, or some of your executives, could stop presenting to us, stop by the shop floor, talk with us, and listen to us. You might learn that there seems to be something missing because things are not going well at my level.

We like you, the company and our jobs and only want the best for everyone. We need to understand.

Sincerely,

Your Worried But Loyal Worker

Written with credit to several online examples

Do You Have A Brilliant Jerk In Your Workplace?

Do you have a “brilliant jerk” (or two) in your workplace? 

I teach a leadership class at my local University, and in a recent class, one student shared the story about a high-performing employee who was a jerk. That jerk created a toxic environment but was consistently the number one salesperson. She asked what she should do about the person when senior management focused on that person’s results but not the impact of her actions.

I advised the student to focus on the costs that jerk had on the organization; how many employees or customers did they lose because of this person’s actions? For example, if a new employee quits due to this person being a jerk, how much revenue was lost, and how much did it cost to replace that person?

If the jerk costs more than they earned, the decision becomes economical, not emotional.

Read what happened when I hired a jerk.

A High-performing Jerk is typically in a position of power and has awful toxic behaviours that negatively impact colleagues. Their harmful bullying behaviour “evades consequences” because they’re generally high performing in another metric.

Enough is enough; it’s time for workplace leaders to step up and stamp out these awful behaviours.

Pay Attention to the Brilliant Jerk

High-performing Jerks are bullies but do not have their behaviour dealt with because they may be high performing in another area.

Leaders need to take a more active role in stamping out toxic behaviours in the workplace by:

    1. not shrug off, laugh off or walk past anything that constitutes harassment in your workplace;
    2. speak up against harassment that occurs on your watch, and
    3. Investigate and, if substantiated, discipline and exit perpetrators of harassment regardless of their clients, relationships, public profile, revenue, technical skills, perceived brilliance or commercial value.

Ignore the Brilliant Jerk at Your Peril

When organizational leaders ignore or tolerate High-performing Jerks, they signal to employees and other stakeholders that they value profits over people. I shouldn’t have to point out the consequences; however, recent studies show that toxic workplace culture is ten times more likely to drive employee attrition than dissatisfaction with compensation.

“Enough is enough. It’s time companies considered the consequences of their actions. Toxic rock stars are the cancer of company culture. Leaving them in a position of power reveals what the company truly values: profits over people.” HBR

Failure to effectively deal with the High-performing Jerks has significant implications for medium to long-term company profitability (if you want to think about dollars rather than doing the right thing!) The cost of talent management (attrition replacement, talent sourcing costs, employee compensation) will skyrocket.

Do you have an unhealthy culture?

Leaders Must Take A Proactive Stance

Dealing with the High-performing Jerk after they have polluted your culture with their toxicity is a must. But how about we prevent it from getting to that stage in the first place?

Here is some food for thought. Ask yourself:

      • Am I protecting an employee with toxic behaviours in my workplace?
      • Am I prioritizing some results over long-term positive, sustainable outcomes?
      • Do I reward harmful behaviour through my inaction or other ways?
      • Have I, in any way, contributed to a toxic workplace culture through my behaviours? (Particularly towards women)
      • Am I the reason that people don’t want to come to work anymore?
      • Am I the reason that our employee turnover rate is higher than ideal?

Here is what to do immediately.

      • Publicly commit to creating and sustaining a workplace culture where everyone, irrespective of their identity, is respected, valued and can reach their potential.
      • Publicly commit to a Zero Tolerance policy (Brilliant Jerks are Not Welcome Here!)
      • Ensure there are robust procedures and practices for confidential reporting of brilliant jerk behaviours (workplace bullying, harassment and disrespect)
      • Ask people from all levels and all backgrounds, ‘Does your boss conform to what you believe are the values of this organization?’
      • Hold the leaders in your workplace accountable for [better] managing the brilliant jerks in your organization. And themselves!

And finally, do not underestimate the damage the High-performing Jerks have on your organization. Do not imagine that your organization is not affected.

Do not neglect your role as a workplace leader to protect your employees, including those who are already marginalized, predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Women, Women of Colour, from the awful impact a brilliant jerk can have.

How to handle underperformance – Productively!

Most people want to be successful in their job.

Consider the following suggestions when you observe performance that is not meeting your expectations:

  • Make sure you and the individual have the exact expectations and goals, as a mutual understanding of performance objectives is critical to managing performance.

Read why High Performance is not the same as High Potential.

  • How:

Schedule a conversation with the person and make sure you have enough time not to be rushed

Ensure that you have a mutual understanding of the employee’s performance objectives

          • Ask the person to describe what they are trying to do and how they view their performance. DO NOT interrupt and allow the employee to talk.

Listen carefully and thoughtfully to the person’s view of the situation.

          • Paraphrase what you heard the person say to ensure you understand
          • Ask the person to repeat what they said, but in different words

A Poor Performer Costs Money, But If You Like Them, It Will Cost You $76,500* – Two Approaches To Cut That Cost

Once they are finished, consider what they said and then share your expectations and perceptions.

Discuss any discrepancies between your expectation and what the employee has told you by:

          • Be specific about your expectations for goals and objectives that the employee is not meeting.
          • Listening carefully to the person’s ideas and perspectives and then determining if there is a way to improve the person’s work.
          • If the poor performance results from a lack of skill, knowledge, or experience, give specific direction to provide coaching and development opportunities.
          • If the poor performance results from conflicting priorities, clarify your preferences for this person.

Once you have a shared understanding of the situation, refocus the conversation on the future, not the past.

Ask the person for their ideas and solutions for closing any performance gaps.

Agree on the steps to be taken and a time frame for each step

Read about performance management fails & what to do about them

Follow up on the performance regularly by scheduling meetings and informally with regular check-ins.

What Is Heck Is Organizational Health? 10 Questions Answered by Steve

Question: What is organizational health?

Organizational health is essentially about making a company function effectively by building a cohesive leadership team, establishing real clarity among those leaders, communicating that clarity to everyone within the organization, and putting in place just enough structure to reinforce that clarity going forward. Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete when its management, operations and culture are unified. Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave.

Read about the ‘First Team’ Model

Question: Why does organizational health offer a company its greatest opportunity for competitive advantage?

Addressing organizational health provides an incredible advantage to companies because, ultimately, health becomes the multiplier of intelligence. The healthier an organization is, the more its intelligence it can tap into and actually use. Most organizations only exploit a fraction of the knowledge, experience and intellectual capital available to them. The healthy ones tap into all of it. Addressing health helps companies to make smarter decisions faster, without politics and confusion.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

Question: Why are so many of today’s smartest companies losing to underdogs?

I have found that some of the underdogs are more apt to shed their preconceived notions about running a business and allow themselves to gain an advantage around a different set of principles. The key ingredient for improvement and success is not access to knowledge; it is really about the environment’s health.

I have worked with many great, healthy companies led by men and women who attended relatively modest colleges, people who would admit to being just a little above average in intellectual capacity. When those companies made wise decisions that set them apart from their competition, journalists and industry analysts incorrectly attributed their intellectual prowess’s success. The truth of the matter was that the underdogs weren’t smarter than their competitors; they simply tapped into the adequate intelligence they had and didn’t allow dysfunction, ego, and politics to get in the way. Conversely, smart organizations don’t seem to have any greater chance of getting healthier by virtue of their intelligence. In fact, the reverse may actually be true because leaders who pride themselves on expertise and knowledge often struggle to acknowledge their flaws and learn from their peers. They typically aren’t as easily open and transparent with one another, which delays recovery from mistakes and fuels politics and confusion.

Question: Having worked with companies for so many years, is there anything that still surprises you?

Yes, I still get surprised by what I see in companies I work with, even after all these years. Some of that surprise is just a function because no two people, and thus, no two organizations are exactly alike. The nuances are interesting and keep me on my toes. But ironically, the biggest surprise I get is being reminded repeatedly that even the most sophisticated companies struggle with the simplest things. I guess it’s hard for me to believe that the concepts I write and speak about are universal. I don’t know that I’ll ever come to terms with that completely.

Question: Why are so few companies skilled at overcoming dysfunction?

Leaders often complain about worker productivity, politics, turnover and other signs of dysfunction but feel addressing the problem is either a hopeless endeavour or too touchy-feely. Even if the leader understands the need to address dysfunction, more often than not, they tend to naturally gravitate right back to the parts of the business they feel most comfortable with (usually in areas like strategy, finance, marketing, etc.).

Question: What’s “the wuss factor,” and how do you overcome it?

The “wuss factor” happens when a team member or leader constantly balks when it’s time to call someone out on their behaviour or performance. Many leaders who struggle with this will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; they just don’t want to make their employees feel bad. But an honest reassessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness. After all, there is nothing noble about withholding information that can help an employee improve. Eventually, that employee’s lack of improvement will come back to haunt him in a performance review or when he is let go.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

Question: What’s the best way to run an effective meeting?

To answer that question fairly, it is important to be clear about what kind of meeting you are in. I find that all too often, leaders have one meeting a week where they put all issues into one big discussion, usually called the staff meeting. They combine administrative issues and tactical decisions, creative brainstorming and strategic analysis, and personal discussions into one exhausting meeting. The fact is the human brain isn’t meant to process so many disparate topics in one sitting. This exhausts people. For a meeting to be effective, there needs to be greater clarity and focus, which means there needs to be different kinds of meetings for different kinds of focus. So, being clear about what kind of meeting you are in helps everyone understand the purpose and what they can expect for outcomes. The four meetings include:

  • Daily Check-ins – administrative information exchange
  • Weekly Staff – tactical issues and goal-related activities
  • Ad hoc Strategic- strategic meeting that takes on one single big topic
  • Quarterly Off-site Review – developmental meeting and review of business fundamentals

Question: How can someone who’s not in the upper levels of their organization make an impact on its health?

While it’s true that no one can influence an organization like the leader and that without a leader’s commitment and involvement, organizational health cannot become a reality, there are many things that employees deeper in an organization can do to make health more likely. First, they have to speak truth upward in the organization. Most leaders, even the struggling ones, want to get better. When an employee is courageous and wise enough to come to them with respect, kindness and honesty, most leaders will be grateful. Without honest upward feedback, a leader cannot get better. Beyond that, people deeper in an organization can focus on making their own departments healthier and not getting too distracted or discouraged by their inability to change things outside of their “circle of influence,” as Stephen Covey says. By focusing on their own departments and their own areas of influence, they provide others with an example to follow.

Question: What’s something I can do tomorrow morning to get started?

The first thing anyone can do immediately to begin the process of making their organizations healthier is, to begin with, themselves and their team. A leader has to understand and embrace the concept of being vulnerable, which inspires trust in the leadership team. That trust is the foundation for teamwork, which is one of the cornerstones of organizational health. If a leader cannot be vulnerable, cannot admit his or her mistakes, shortcomings or weaknesses, others will not be vulnerable and organizational health becomes impossible.

Question: What’s the first step any company can take to start achieving organizational health?

The first step in becoming healthy is to get the leadership team together, offsite, for a couple of days of focused, rigorous, honest discussion. Nothing touchy-feely, but rather a practical session around everything from how the team behaves to how it will succeed to what its most important priority needs to be. That first session will provide the momentum a team needs to lead the organization to health.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

π