Guest Post by Wanda T. Wallace, Ph.D. 

We hear a lot from Bob and his work about the questions great leaders ask – and there is great advice in that work.  I want to turn the question on end however and focus on the questions great employees should ask.  There are two people in every conversation.  Each can move the conversation forward by asking great questions of the other.  The employee can take ownership of getting feedback from a manager, just as much as the manager can, by be smarter with the questions that are asked.

So below are the seven questions I wish employees would ask their managers – but not all at one time.

  1. What does your ideal employee look like? Notice this doesn’t require the manager to give feedback on how you are or are not an ideal employee. That is now up to you to decide if you are doing the things that matter the most or not.  Do the self-evaluation and take action where needed.
  1. Can you give me an example of someone who does “X skill” particularly well? This also doesn’t require the manager to give direct, tough feedback.  It does give you a lot of clues about what X really looks like along with someone to watch and model where it suits you.
  1. I am worried that …. I didn’t handle that meeting very well (or any other concrete action). What is your perspective?  This gives the manager permission to be candid without worrying that you will be upset, demotivated or angry.  It also allows a manager to give guidance.  
  1. What would you be doing differently if you were in my shoes? This question gets the best advice of any question I have seen because it gives the manager (or anyone) the opportunity to say what he/she would do without worrying that it won’t work for you or that you will be offended by the advice. 
  1. What do you like? What do you dislike and what are your recommendations? (Courtesy of Mitch Ditkoff at ideachampions.com ) This question is the single best way to keep creativity going and to get reactions from a group of people without feeling overwhelmed.  One piece of advice:  Ask the first question of everyone in the room, then go the next two questions and have people answer them at the same time. 
  1. Here is what I think we should do. What have I missed? What about this will not work from your point of view?   This keeps you in control of your work, but it allows a manager to step in if there is something critical that he/she knows that you need to know.  

And to peers, direct reports, others as well as managers:

  1. What’s the one thing if I did differently would make a difference to you? (courtesy of Sheila Heen, Thank You for the Feedback) Ask for only one thing so you get the top priority. And, at any given point in time, you can only do a very few things differently anyway.

wandatwallace-headshotDr. Wanda Wallace, CEO of Leadership Forum Inc., coaches, facilitates and speaks on improving leadership capability. She specializes in helping women (and men) get to the top, stick and thrive.  Her latest emphasis is on helping managers build truly inclusive cultures. She hosts a weekly radio show: Out of the Comfort ZoneFollow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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