Guest Post by Gordon Tredgold

Originally posted @ Inc.

Great leaders don’t just provide great answers to questions; they also ask great questions. You can learn so much by asking great questions, and this a fantastic habit to develop.

As well as helping you to increase your knowledge and understanding, it also makes your teams feel more involved because when you listen to them, it shows that you value their input, all of which increases their commitment and motivation.

Here are 5 simple questions that great leaders ask:

1.  Is there a simpler solution or a simpler way of doing this?

Many people have a natural tendency to over complicate things, especially when under pressure, and as leaders you need to step back, take a pause and ask whether there is a simpler solution that we could implement.

Complex solutions are usually easier to find, and simpler solutions or simpler ways of doing things take a little bit longer. As a leader, you need to give your teams the time to take a breath and see if there is an alternative which could be easier.

The people closest to the problem often have the best understanding of it, but might not be involved in designing the solution, so it’s always good to get their input.

What you need is a solution that is going to work in practice not just in theory.

2.  Can you explain the solution to me?

If something doesn’t quite add up, or you don’t understand how the solution is going to work ask the experts to explain it to you. If they can’t explain it, then they don’t fully understand the solution, and if they don’t understand it, who does. When you lack understanding into how our solution will work, you’re probably staring down the barrel of failure.

Also, when people explain things it requires them to think them through again, often at a deeper level, and I have often seen this increase their understanding of the solution, or they notice an issue that they were previously not aware of.

The better you understand the solution the clearer you can explain it, and if you can explain it clearly, then you can get everyone on the same page, all of which increases your probability of success.

3.  What should we stop doing?

At every company I have worked there has been lots, and lots, of institutionalized bureaucracy which just adds unnecessary tasks which dilute effectiveness and efficiency.

You can see great returns when you ask your teams if they were in charge what would they stop doing.

But you need to be open to the answers that you get, and you should create an environment where people feel comfortable saying what they truly believe.

At one company where I worked, we had a regular monthly meeting where the senior leadership team spent two days locked in a room with the boss listening to presentations.

Every single person who attended told me that these meetings were useless, meaningless and an utter waste of time. However, whenever the boss asked us what things we could stop doing to improve our effectiveness no one ever mentioned canceling the meetings although we all believed it because we knew the answer would not be well received.

You need to give your teams the comfort to be able to tell you what adds no value, otherwise institutionalized bureaucracy will limit your effectiveness.

4.  Is this urgent or important?

In today’s highly pressurized world you are bombarded with urgent things which constantly demand your attention, but quite often these are just urgent but not important.

As leaders you need to ensure that the majority of your time, and the time of your team, is spent on the important items, whether they be urgent or not. Otherwise, you will always find ourselves under pressure.

A great approach that I learned early in my career, from one of the most effective bosses I had, was always try and start the day with a couple of things that are important, but which are not necessarily urgent.

One of the interesting things with important things is that eventually, they will become urgent, but if you can deal with them before they become urgent, you have more time to come up with a better solution.

5.  Do you think our approach will be successful?

According to research into failure, 75% of the teams who were involved in projects that failed, knew the project would fail right from the start.

When people lack belief then this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, it is possible that some of these projects failed just because of people that it would fail.

So it’s good for you to ask this question because if the team are not confident, then it will give you an opportunity to be able to explain the approach, the solution, again and look to give the team the belief that they need.

It could also be that the solution is flawed or that you have missed something, and by asking the teams, you give them an opportunity to point things out you might have missed or raise their concerns, which then gives you the chance to address them.

As leaders, you do not have all of the answers, and no one expects you to, but they do expect you to ask the right questions. I have worked with many leaders who felt that asking these types of questions showed weakness, a lack of their understanding or their ability.

However for me this doesn’t show weakness it shows confidence. It shows that a leader is confident in the ability of their team and that they are prepared to appear vulnerable, all of which takes great courage.

Gordon Tredgold is a business and IT transformation expert who has successfully delivered $100 million programs, run $300 million departments, and led 1,000-staff teams for Fortune 100 companies. Now, he coaches businesses and executives. He‘s also an international speaker and published author. His mission is to help people become better leaders who deliver amazing results. Connect with Gordon @  and/or  Twitter


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One thought on “5 Simple Questions Great Leaders Ask

  1. Andy Neillie says:

    Good reminders. I also think we should ask, “Why do you think this will be successful?” as well as “What may be some unintended consequences of this initiative?”

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