Leaders – The 4 Questions We Are Afraid To Ask

Are there any questions you do not ask because you don’t want to hear the answer? 

As a husband, one question that always makes me nervous is –  In a year from now, what do you hope has changed?  This question digs deeper than just uncovering any recent inconsiderate remarks I have made or recalling a stressful entry into the house from a long day of work.  The answer always reveals something significant and important.  I still fear this question.  t is hard to ask.

Here are the top 4 questions that leaders are afraid to ask:

  1. How am I doing?
  2. From your perspective, was I right or wrong?
  3. What should we be celebrating? 
  4. Imagine we are sitting here a year from now – What one thing do you hope has changed? (it is just not significant in relationships)

It is hard to ask questions that, when answered truthfully, will put us in a position to have to make a change.  You might be wondering about #3.  In a world where leaders strive to move things forward and often see problems piling up faster than problems going away, celebrations often become barriers to doing work.  Is fear the reason?  Maybe not.  But if the outcome is the question does not get asked, does the reason matter?  I thought it worth including.

It is hard to ask questions that will likely result in someone criticizing something we did or adding more work to an already full day.

It is easier to get lost in our work, to do lists, or superficial conversations.

To combat this, it is important for leaders and organizations to develop HABITS that provide an opportunity to listen.  Things like:

  • Yearly employee engagement surveys
  • One on one time every two  weeks.
  • Frequent Breakfast with the CEO events.
  • Yearly/Quarterly performance discussions.

Of course, you could ask the single question or do the employee engagement survey, then do nothing with the responses.  Is this more harmful than not asking the question?  I have an opinion, but what do you think? 

Do you have any other difficult questions to add to the list?

Leadership and . . . Valentine’s Day?

Tree decorated for Valentine's Day in San Dieg...
Image via Wikipedia

In an informal poll of a half-dozen men over the last week I found that 100% of them were wishing this Hallmark holiday never existed.  Based on the line at Walgreen’s last night at 9pm, I can say the world feels a responsibility to buy something red, sweet or shiny for someone today.  Let me offer an alternative.

Valentine’s Day should be about emotionally connecting with someone you care about.

What if you put aside time on the couch, in front of a fire, or over a meal (in or out) and discussed these five questions:

  • What were the high points of our past year together?
  • What did we overcome?
  • What are the things facing us that have me worried?
  • What should we be doing more of and less of in the coming year? 
  • Why are you/this relationship so important to me?

Too often, both at work and at home, we don’t put enough value on giving our time and full focus. 

Most of my life is spent helping leaders connect with and influence the people around them.  As I look at this list it hits me that it would probably be a powerful conversation to have at work.

Sometimes I wonder if we think too much and don’t feel enough.