I believe that great conversations start with a question. One of the questions I ask all leadership teams during our EOS® annual planning is:
What role do you want in this organization in 3 years?
I can see the discomfort right away, and I let it stay there. This is part of the process of building transparency within the leadership team about how they want to contribute in the future.
I can vividly remember the faces of one leadership team as they shared their answers. It was clear they were being at least 80% honest because they all mentioned different roles than they were in today, but clearly aligned with what they were interested in doing. They smiled as soon as the words came out of their mouths, as if some sort of internal pressure had been released.
People-centered leaders work hard at finding powerful questions to ask that will reveal truth and test for trust. These leaders mine for feedback and view this feedback as an action item for themselves – and a measure of how much their team trusts them. Here are three powerful, people-centered questions:
- How have I made your job harder in the last 30 days?
- What role would you like to be doing in 3 years?
- What questions do you have for me?
People stay safe and vague when they are afraid. The first question focuses on telling you which feeling is winning – fear or trust.
Maturity and safety allows people to be honest for the second question. One answer I love is the same role. My follow-up question for them is: If you stayed in this role, tell me a little more about the challenges you would like to help fix or how you want to be challenged? Staying in the same role is okay. Lack of interest in changing or improving is not if I am a leader challenged with accomplishing more. When you invite people to help in a more significant way, most will respond. Questions invite them to help.
Finally, the last question helps judge the depth of their thinking about your work and how much they are willing to challenge your decisions. Both are indicators of how much passion they have for your work, and whether they will help you make better decisions. It takes courage to come back with challenging questions, and this creates space for that.
I work with a leader who has become a mentor for me. He has become a mentor because he is so grateful when I challenge his thinking or bring a new idea. My idea does not always win, but he listens. I trust him enough to tell him I am having a busy day or a terrible day. I learn something every time I am around him and it feels so good to be able to be transparent with him. I have found that it takes so much energy to pretend.
Trust is about not having to pretend.
Create space for authentic conversations by using powerful questions and listening.
Lead well . . .