I don’t know all the answers. No-one does. But if you want to rise to the top in any organization you need to know the right questions to ask. You need to question yourself and you need to question the members of your team. Every day. Repeatedly.
When you ask questions of yourself you need to give brutally honest answers. And you should expect the same of everyone working for you. It’s the only way to innovate and the only way to overcome obstacles, fix problems and build a thriving, groundbreaking business.
Here are some of the questions great leaders ask so that they can develop great companies.
We’ve all joked about children asking “why?” over and over again. But, in all seriousness, the repeated asking of that simple three-letter question gets to the root of so many business dilemmas. You might have to ask five or more times before you elicit the response that truly solves a problem.
What can we do better?
Successful leaders never stop seeking improvement. Nothing is perfect. Everything can be tweaked and fine-tuned. Whether it’s a cost savings or quality of customer service; answering the phone faster or writing unbelievable code; finding a better supplier or coming up with a new employee training initiative—at every level of an organization something can be done better. So ask, and find out what it is. Leadership means pushing your team to attain a higher standard than they otherwise might establish for themselves.
What is everyone thinking, but reluctant to say?
This is a question that has to be asked, but in a progressive company shouldn’t need to be asked. Ideally, if you’re the leader of a team you’ve already fostered an atmosphere in which your rock stars speak freely. They’re not intimidated. They’re not ‘yes men.’ They’ll tell you the way things are even if it means breaking news they know you won’t want to hear. But there’s no harm in asking the question, just in case someone’s holding something back. You always want the plain, unvarnished truth.
Are we still innovating?
A company that stagnates and bathes in past successes is a company that is going to drown. The message: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. You have to keep asking of yourself and your employees: What are we doing new? What are we doing next? How can we become (or remain) the brand leader? What else should we develop? What markets should we enter?
Am I Inspiring?
Great leaders motivate. They know how to rally the troops. They build a company that everyone is proud to work for and excited to work for. They spawn a stimulating, creative environment in which people create and collaborate. A company is only as good as the person at the top. If that’s you, you have to constantly question if you are inspiring your employees. An inspired workforce is genius at work; a dispirited workforce is a deterrent to growth. Remember that your energy is magnetic.
Am I truly committed?
This is perhaps the most fundamental, basic question of all. If you hesitated one second before answering ‘of course’ it means that you are probably not as dedicated as you should be. And if you’re not committed, truly committed, to forging relentlessly ahead on your journey…if you’re not determined to emerge as a winner…you can’t expect anyone else to believe in your vision. Show your passion and it will ignite passion in others.
What do you need?
You’re not a mind reader, so how are you going to get a handle on what will make your employees happy and get the best work out of them if you never ask what they want? First of all, people need to be aware that you care and that you want them to be winners, too. Second, when they get what they need you can be sure you’ll be getting the best possible performance. You want them to be as committed as you are.
What are our values?
You know what your values are. You know what you stand for. You know the moral, ethical code by which you want your business to be known. Does everyone within your organization—whether you have five employees or 500 employees—know it? You can’t always be looking over every decision-maker’s shoulder, and that’s not desirable anyway. But by asking employees what they see as the company’s values will positively reinforce those critical values.
As I said at the beginning—no-one has all of the answers. No-one should. But great leaders definitely have the wisdom to ask probing questions of themselves and others so they can get to all of the answers they need. Then they must fearlessly implement what they’ve learned.
As a wise man once wrote, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”