Guest Post by Kevin Herring

Originally Posted @ Ascent Management Consulting

How can leaders increase employee engagement using a traditional leadership dogma of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling—all top-down practices? We now know that to boost engagement leaders must adopt new approaches that transfer those skills to the team.

Ask, Don’t Tell is one way to do that. It’s a leadership approach that builds business understanding, personal ownership, and leadership skills among team members. Instead of giving orders, solving day-to-day problems, and relegating employees to pair-of-hands status, leaders use key questions to build employee capacity to contribute which supports greater
employee engagement.

The following 7 questions, in particular, should be in every leader’s toolbox and well worn from use. When a leader shifts away from telling to asking these questions, the team culture will also begin to shift from a focus on merely complying with directives to fully engaging for team and
business success.

The 7 Essential Questions:

  1. What do you know about this situation and what else do you need to know?
    This question invites the team member or team to examine the data or go out and collect it, and to acknowledge that the responsibility for addressing the need has shifted from the team leader to the team so the team begins to own responsibility for the outcome.
  2. What does the data tell you about how you should approach this problem and who
    you should involve?
    This question builds collaboration, an analytical orientation, and accountability. It helps team members to understand they should not make decisions in a vacuum and that they should include others. Note the emphasis on “you” to clarify that the team member or team is responsible for solving the problem.
  3. What have you tried so far and what were the results?
    Here, we encourage broad consideration of previous successes and failures to speed the decision process and build problem analysis skills.
  4. If you were on the receiving end of this, what would be the most helpful and satisfying course of action for you and the team? Or, what would be best for the business?
    This question invites empathy for the customer experience and others affected by the decision and helps team members to keep the big picture in mind.
  5. What are some of the best ways to accomplish this and what do you need from me?
    This question helps the decision maker consider the options and to be mindful that you are there to help when resources outside of the team’s reach are needed. Warning: Be careful to not take over or do things the team could reasonably do for itself.
  6. What challenges do you anticipate with this decision (or direction) and how do you
    plan to address or mitigate them?
    This question teaches risk analysis and mitigation. It may offer opportunities for you to introduce risk tools to the team. Again, resist the temptation to “help” with the decision and take over. Also, teach that decision tools are only to aid decision making, not take over the responsibility for making the decision.
  7. Who needs to be kept in the loop and what’s the best way to do that?
    An important aspect of accountability is appropriate inclusion and reporting. Not everything needs to be reported or tracked. Some in-the-moment decisions simply need to be made and acted upon. Generally speaking, those who will be affected by decisions, fellow team members, and other accountable parties, like leaders, should be included in communications and in reporting processes. Asking this question opens up an opportunity to teach these accountability principles.

So let go of old-school leadership practices and begin using an Ask, Don’t Tell approach with these 7 Essential Questions. You will soon find your team members increasing their business understanding, using that knowledge and perspective to become more engaged and committed, and working better together for team and business unit success.

Kevin Herring


Kevin Herring is co-author of Practical Guide for Internal Consultantsand President of Ascent Management ConsultingKevin can be contacted at kevinh@ascentmgt.com.



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