Too often when direct reports come to leaders with a problem, leaders speak using statements when questions are often a much better choice.
When a direct report comes to a leader with an issue, solving it for them makes the leader the choke point for future problems and does little, if anything, to develop the direct report. Asking questions exercises their brain for growth and development, while conveying confidence in their ability to solve the problem or issue at hand. It gives the leader the opportunity to consider some options they may not have previously considered and in the long run, should save them from future interruptions as the problem-solving of the direct report increases.
When a direct report brings a situation to a leader, the leader should try questions like these:
- What have you done up to this point? What has worked? What has not worked?
- What options have you considered? Why?
- Have you consulted anyone else about this? What were their suggestions, or from whom might you be able to seek advice (aside from me)?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? What can you do if that does happen? What preventative measures could be implemented?
When leaders ask questions and solicit solutions, they gain commitment to the execution of that solution since the direct report feels empowered. Secondly, the direct report’s critical thinking ability expands when asked questions.
In Jim Collins’ book, “How the Mighty Fall,” he stresses the importance of question to statement ratio suggesting leaders appoint someone in a team meeting to track how many statements they make and how many questions they ask. Then, he suggests leaders systematically try to increase the number of questions to double that ratio over the period of a year.
Of course, some problems deserve to be escalated to the leader, but developing the problem-solving skills of others assures that great minds can work together when the problem is significant.
Leaders empower their direct reports by asking questions and communicating confidence in their ability to become successful problem-solvers.