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 Most Important Leadership Competency

This article is based on my research and an HBR article   

What makes an effective leader?

This question focuses on my research and my experience as a leader, executive coach, and organizational health & development consultant.

I recently conducted research to consider the most critical leadership competencies for leaders and leadership development programs.

This quite aligns with a previous article titled Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic.

 

 

Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety.

This theme combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectations” (56%).

These attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.

A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that they and their employees will honour the game’s rules.

Similarly, when leaders communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment, an employee can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.

Neuroscience confirms this point.

When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the limbic brain’s social engagement system and the prefrontal cortex’s executive function, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.

Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions?

Here are 7 questions to prevent fear of leadership failure. 

But how?

This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your values.

To increase feelings of safety, work on communicating with the specific intent of making people feel safe.

One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge and neutralize feared results or consequences from the outset.

For example, you might approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame you. I want to understand what happened.”

Read How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

This competency challenge leader due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us.

But with deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective (perhaps aided by a coach), there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.

Get rid of Top-Down Supervision

Leadership is not for a select few people at the top of the organization; a healthy Organization has leaders at every level.

I constantly hear supervisors gripe about their employees’ lack of ownership in their work and projects. However, the same supervisors do not realize that they take actions that take ownership away from their people.

Read about leading with intent.

Hoping people take ownership is not a plan.

Leaders of healthy organizations implement systems and mechanisms that eliminate mechanisms that inhibit a sense of ownership.

Top-down systems rob people of their sense of ownership, so the more you can do to eliminate them, the better. I am not talking about monitoring data and results, as these should make the invisible visible.

The systems I am speaking about involve senior management determining what their subordinates should be doing and then holding them accountable.

In my experience, people do their best work when they are accountable to themselves and their teammates.

Read more about accountability.

When it comes to processes, adherence to the process frequently becomes the objective, as opposed to achieving the goal that the process was put in place.v  

It drives people crazy when the process becomes the outcome.

W. Edward Deming, who explored the principle of Total Quality Leadership, said that systems to monitor efficiency improved efficiency. However, processes that monitored the process made the organization inefficient.

Monitoring processes, or how employees do their jobs, sends the message that we do not trust you.

And in the end, it drives employees away from taking ‘ownership.’

You will drive ownership if you are clear about your intent and what employees are not allowed to do when carrying out your plan.

 

Consider these questions:

How are you underutilizing the ideas, creativity, and passions of your mid-level managers, who are responsible for their departments’ results?

Which monitoring systems can you hand over to mid-level managers and department heads?

What are the top-down monitoring systems in your organization? And how can you eliminate them?

 

What are the Four levels of Accountability Systems?

Level 1 – Chaos: People are not told what they are accountable for and therefore don’t do their jobs

Level 2 – Inefficient: People are told what they are accountable for but don’t do their jobs because of overwork or focus on the wrong things. This is most inefficient because resources are invested in monitoring, not getting work done.

Level 3 – Compliance: People understand what they are responsible for and do their work because there are systems to hold people accountable. People often feel forced to do their jobs. This is where most organizations are and work towards, but this is top-down leadership.

Level 4 – Healthy: People are not told what to do because they have figured it out independently. They also hold themselves and their peers accountable for results with a minimum number of monitoring systems. This is a highly engaged, energized, and healthy organization where people have committed and ownership of their work.

 

In traditional top-down organizations, accountability processes say that you, the employee, cannot hold yourself accountable for your work; therefore, your boss must do it for you.

In a healthy organization, people hold themselves and their peers accountable for their performance.

Read about Healthy organizations.

Leaders in a healthy organization do not hold employees accountable; they help them hold themselves accountable.

How powerful would it be if people felt safe enough to ask others, ‘Can you help me stay on track.’

This would inspire accountability and efficiency, creativity and energy.

Three 3-minute articles to discuss with your team to create a lifetime of positive change (for everyone).

This article has been reprinted several times, most recently,

the Engineering Management Institute has reprinted it

What you can do with this: You can print, read, share, and discuss it.

How to use this material:

      • Discuss. Remind. Encourage.
      • That’s my recommended approach to helping people commit and develop.
      • I recommend reading and discussing the first three articles with your team and repeat weekly.
      • Each can be read in less than three minutes and discussed in 10 to 15 minutes.

How to prepare:

      • Share one of the articles with your team and schedule a time for discussion.
      • Or share the guide with your department leaders and have them facilitate smaller discussions.
      • Ask everyone to read the discussion article.
      • Ask them to make notes on anything they find valuable or disagree with. If you prefer, give them some questions about the material for ideas and ask them to provide some advanced thought.
      • On your own, read the article, make your notes, and answer the questions you intend to ask or give.
      • Give some quick thought to any likely objections or challenges to the material you can anticipate from your group. (Who might ask what and how you want to respond?)
      • Introduce your upcoming discussions in person or by email. Feel free to use the following as a suggested script to edit to fit your style:

“I came across a few short articles that significantly impacted me. I thought we all might benefit from reading and discussing them over the next few weeks – one each week.

“Each article can be read in less than three minutes. Please read the first one and give some advanced thought to it. Make notes on anything that connects with you.

“Let’s kick off next week strong and meet in the conference room Monday morning at 8:00 for 20 minutes at most.

“I think the effort will be good for our work, but it also might be helpful to each of us personally.”

Discussion tips:

      • Be enthusiastic.
      • Avoid interrupting or finishing someone’s thoughts or answers.
      • Add a small gap of silence to an answer – just a beat or two. This may allow someone to expand on something and avoid someone feeling that they need to rush through their answers.
      • When you feel someone might have more value to add, encourage them with a “What do you mean, Nancy?” or “Can you expand on that?” or “What happened next?”
      • Invite different people to contribute to the discussion or have other people lead the talks each week.
      • Be ready to help the discussion move on if someone takes too much control of it. (“Good point, Bob. If we have time in the end, let’s come back to this.”)

Discussion #1: Slippery Moments & Quiet Quitting

The Gallup organization says that in North America, roughly:

              • 29% of us are engaged and care about our work
              • 54% of us are just “Going Through the Motions.”
              • 17% are “Disgruntled” and get in the way of those who care

Of course, we all have moments when we are not working at our best, but the “Going Through the Motions” people or those who have “Quietly Quit” are challenging to deal with. Dealing with the “Going Through the Motions” or “Disgruntled” can be slippery and trip you up.

Slippery Moments Discussion Questions:

          • How do you think the numbers from Gallup stand up here?
          • What are some typical examples of moments we see here?
          • What are the consequences for our customers/ourselves?
          • What are your thoughts on the problem?
          • What are a few specific things we could start doing today to make those “Going Through the Motions” or “Disgruntled” moments less frequent? What else?

Discussion #2: Distraction Diet

Imagine the incredible results you’d have if you focused more during your day. You could:

                • Contribute more
                • Serve people better (internally and externally)
                • Come up with more ideas
                • Waste less time ramping back up
                • Create more opportunities
                • Plan better
                • Be less frustrated and stressed

Five ways to knock out the bulk of distractions:

        1. Establish focus hours for yourself. Set aside time each day when you’ll be unavailable for anything but true emergencies. If you can, commit to no inter-office communications during focus hours unless it genuinely can’t wait. No small talk. No “Hey… just a sec” interruptions.
        2. Turn off email alerts and commit to checking them at the most minimal level you feel is possible without harming service to others.
        3. Turn off chat and messaging apps (personal and team) unless your work requires it to get the job done.
        4. Avoid the web during your money hours (hours of the workday where you make good things happen) unless you need it for your work. The distractions are endlessly pleasant for those who’d prefer to avoid making good things happen (not your goal).
        5. Face away from distractions if you’re in a setting that allows you to do so.

Distraction Diet Discussion Questions:

          • What are the most valuable of the five ideas for us? The least valuable? Why? Why not?
          • What impact can our distraction have on our customers/colleagues?
          • What are some other ideas we could do to improve?
          • If we gave out an award to the most focused person on our team/department, who would win it? Why?
          • How can we help each other when we slip? What kind of agreement can we make to stay committed to better focus?

“The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions. The door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed. Or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.” ~ MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929 – 1968)

Discussion #3: Do as I say, not as I do.

Given that most of us can’t get it right all the time, is it just more good advice?

          • Someone suggests you be more approachable to invite opportunity and better relationships, but you hide behind your desk.
          • Is the advice wrong if a boss is not patient or thankful but suggests that you should be?

When I find myself indulging in being grumpy, I’ve found it helpful to remember four things:

          1. I’m a grown-up.
          2. It’s not about me.
          3. I won’t be here forever.
          4. I want to make good things happen for others (which, in turn, will make good things happen for me).

Do as I Say Discussion Questions:

          1. What connected most with you from the article? Why?
          2. Why do you think someone’s hypocrisy makes it easier for us to disregard their advice?
          3. What does “Go first … and stay with it” mean?
          4. How do you think we can better minimize our occasional negative moods?
          5. What would you add or revise to overcome grumpiness?

My conclusion

It’s always the leader.

  • We try to hire the right people. We do our best to develop and grow those people.
  • But we get busy and stop listening. Take a few moments each month to use these questions to prompt a conversation.

Listen.

  • You will be surprised, even shocked, with what you will learn.

Do You Want to Improve Your Leadership Experience? STOP Solving Problems!

An emergency requires quick decisions and clear instructions.

There may be a little time for a discussion with your team.

However, a vast majority of cases do not require an immediate decision.

There is almost always time for the team to consider the situation and develop solutions.

A thoughtful Leader needs to take time to let others react to the situation.

You have to create space for open decision-making for the entire team, even if that space is only a few minutes long.

This is harder in strict top-down leadership structures because leaders must solely anticipate decisions and alert their teams of upcoming decisions. In a top-down hierarchy, subordinates do not need to think ahead because the boss will decide when necessary.

How many times do issues that require decisions come up on short notice?

If this regularly happens, you have a reactive organization in a downward spiral. When problems aren’t foreseen, the team doesn’t get time to think about them, a quick decision is required from the boss, which doesn’t train the team, etc.

It would be best if you changed the cycle.

Here are a few ways to get your team thinking for themselves:

– If the decision needs to be made urgently, make it. Then explain why later, when there is time, and then have the team ‘Red Team’ decide to evaluate it.

Read about ‘Red Teamin’

– If the decision needs to be made on short notice, ask your team for input, even briefly, then make the decision.

– If the decisions can be delayed, push it back to your team to provide input. Do not force the team to come to a consensus. Consensus is a lazy leadership style that silences differences and those in dissent. Cherish dissent. Remember, if everyone thinks as you do, you don’t need them.

π