vendredi 15 décembre 2006

deeper questions leaders need to ask employees

rush out and start asking more questions,
there are a few things to keep in mind. Asking questions
takes time. Asking questions implies that you’re going to lis-
ten to the answers. Asking these kinds of questions will
annoy some people. Understanding each of these issues will
help you formulate your questioning strategy, so let’s take a
look at each.

Asking questions takes time. Don’t kid yourself
about this one. You can’t approach people with
important questions without allowing for the time it takes to
hear the answers. When faced with a good question, most
people actually think for a while, formulate their answer,
deliver it, and expect a response. Often the response is a fol-
low-up question that starts the process all over again. This
takes time. It is rude to ask a question if you don’t have the
time to listen to and absorb the answer. It is inconsiderate
to interrupt someone’s day and ask them a question without
determining if they have the time to answer.
Many leaders don’t ask questions because of the time fac-
tors involved. When things settle down, they say, then I’ll
have the time to ask questions. If you are a leader who’s
waiting for things to settle down, you’re going to be wait-
ing a long time. You need to make the time to ask questions.
It’s your job.

Asking questions implies that you’re going to listen to the
answers. Remember the story about the man who wanted a
note to his wife to prove that he’d passed my listening
course? Remember my answer? Understanding the process
of good listening doesn’t ensure actually applying those
Have you ever had a conversation with a person who kept
looking at their watch while you’re speaking? Most of us use
the time while another person is speaking to develop our
responses to their words (or what we think they’ll say since
we’re not really listening anyway). That’s not listening.
Asking a question and listening to the answer involves stay-
ing engaged in the answer from beginning to end. No mat-
ter how long it takes the answerer to get to the end.
Asking questions and then practicing poor listening skills is
a very bad idea. If you’re not willing to sharpen your listen-
ing skills, you’d be better off not asking questions at all.

Asking these questions will annoy some people. Not everyone
will be thrilled with your newfound enthusiasm for asking
questions that go beyond the generally expected business
questions. Expect some rolling of the eyes, double takes, and
downright avoidance behavior. Just don’t let these behaviors
Asking the right question takes
as much skill as giving the
right answers.
—Robert Half, American
personnel agency executive
stop you from asking. People are suspicious of leaders who
start asking questions because they’re confused by new behav-
ior, because they fear the reprisal for an honestly answered
tough question, or because they’re just plain cynical.
Don’t let reluctance on the part of others influence your
commitment to asking these questions. Acknowledge their
existence, explain your intentions again, and keep asking.
Don’t run out and bombard people with questions. Pick the
right question for the right person at the right time.
Learning how to ask questions is about strategic thinking.
The time you spend thinking strategically about the ques-
tions you ask will be time well-spent and the answers you get
will be of greater value.
One more word of advice. If you’re having trouble deciding what
question to start with in order to go deeper with this behavior, why
not try this one: What would you think of a leader who is known for the
quality questions they ask? The answers just might provide the moti-
vation you need to keep asking.
20. What gets in the way of your doing
your job?
For years we have all joked and/or raged about the “it’s not my job”
attitudes we’ve encountered in organizations, big and small. Have
you ever stopped to ask yourself if there is a customer somewhere
who thought that way about your organization? Or have you hon-
estly wondered if you’ve got employees that are looking for jobs
elsewhere because they believe that no one in your organization
cares enough to fix internal systems? Dr. W. Edward Deming, the
man whose name is forever linked with quality, believed that 85 per-
cent of quality problems in the workplace are caused by systems, not
by an individual’s inefficiencies. Our organizations are filled with
policies and procedures that prohibit people from doing their best
to satisfy our customers, and you need to know where it’s happen-
ing in yours.
This is the first risky-to-answer question we’ve encountered in
our list. The answer to this particular question can often be a depart-
ment or a person’s name. Please remember that an answerer may
need some time to decide whether or not it is actually safe to tell
you the truth. Describing an outdated policy or explaining an easy-
to-streamline procedure is a fairly safe answer. Identifying a bottle-
neck department or an obstructionist co-worker is another decision
process entirely. You will have to consider time and place when you
venture forth with this question. A comfortable pause after asking a
high-risk question will facilitate your receiving a thoughtful and
productive answer.
A word of caution: One of the ground rules of good questioning is
that when a question is asked and an answer is given, the questioner
does not (and often should not) respond. Given an answer, you
should simply acknowledge the information, clarify any ambiguities,
and assure the answerer that their opinion is valuable and will be
considered. If you express an opinion or make a promise based on a
single response to your question, you might find yourself in the mid-
dle of something more complex than that one answer indicated.
This is especially problematic when a response to your question
points a finger at an individual. An emotional reaction from you may
satisfy the answerer but cause great difficulty for the other person
mentioned. Your best response to this situation is “Thank you for
bringing this to my attention. As I understand it, your situation is
[restate the problem]. You have my word that I will look into this
matter and will get back to you with a resolution. Please know that
I appreciate your efforts to make our organization better.” Now
your job becomes one of detective. By asking more questions and
listening to the additional answers carefully, you’ll be able to fulfill
your promise to deliver a resolution to the original answerer. It may
not be exactly what they wanted or envisioned, but they will appre-
ciate the fact that you kept your word and followed through.
21. What does our leadership team do that
gets in the way of your doing your job?
One of the most often identified roles of a leader is that of barrier
buster. Leaders get into trouble when they fall into a pattern of
doing the jobs of the people who report to them rather than creat-
ing an environment that allows the right people to do the right
things. Successful leaders are eager to help their people find ways to
be productive by coaching them appropriately. They let their teams
know that if they encounter a barrier that is beyond their ability to
tackle, the leader expects that the team will ask for help. That is the
moment when leaders need to roll up their sleeves and get to work
on behalf of the team.
But what happens when the leadership team is the barrier?
Asking What does our leadership team do that gets in the way of you doing
your job? requires persistence and courage.
Persistence because the first time you ask this question, you are
most likely to be answered with a quick “nothing” or “they’re doing
okay” response. Don’t miss the internal dialogue that will undoubt-
edly be running through the answerer’s mind. “What kind of a fool
does this person take me for? Like I’m going to answer this ques-
tion!” And honestly, can you blame them for thinking that? So, ask
the question, but don’t expect quality answers the first time around.
The more you ask other questions and handle the answers appro-
priately, the more likely it is that when you ask this question again,
you will get more truthful answers.
Courage because the responses you get might be painful to hear.
It has been my experience while working with leaders that the far-
ther up you are in the hierarchy, the less likely you are to receive
an accurate picture of the organization’s day-to-day workings.
Unless, of course, you’ve been asking questions long enough to be
trusted. You may hear things about your team’s behavior and maybe
even about your own behavior that will require some soul-search-
ing and change on your part. Don’t ask this question if you’re not
ready to hear and act on the answers. By the way, if you’re not ready
to act—get ready fast!
22. What’s a recent management decision you
didn’t understand?
Your goal in asking this question is to determine if you need to work
on the quality of the decisions you make or the way you communi-
cate your decisions. These are two different things. You need to
determine if people don’t understand why a decision was made or
find out if the way you delivered your decision was flawed. A review
of the emotional reactions that decisions often evoke is seldom made
before the decision is delivered.
Let’s deal with the emotions first. Employee survey after employee
survey reports that one of the greatest motivators in the workplace
is the connected feeling employees get when they understand what’s
going on in their organization. If you need convincing, walk through
a workplace after a news item that reveals a change in their organi-
zation appears in the media. Nothing makes people feel more like
pawns in a grand chess game than being blindsided by company
information from a source outside the organization. Trust me, no
matter how logical the decision might have been or how practical the
change is, when a decision or a change is announced in this fashion,
people react badly, and the organization suffers. Hearing things from
the newspaper is an extreme example, but many big decisions are
delivered to employees without a well-thought-out internal commu-
nication plan, and most day-to-day decisions are delivered without
any explanations at all. Underestimating the emotional reaction to a
decision, based on its mode of delivery, is risky business.
How about the content of the decision? When leaders take the
time to do a good job explaining their decisions, they have accepted
the critical leader role of educator. No one in their right mind would
empower a young teenager to jump into a car and drive alone before
they were properly trained, had plenty of practice, and had passed
the test. Yet very few of the organizations that preach empowerment
take the necessary steps to make sure their people have a broad
understanding of how their organization works, establish levels of
learning that correspond to levels of decision-making authority, and
deliver a constant stream of usable feedback for all employees. A
leader who helps people understand the process behind a decision
is educating them for the time when they will have to make deci-
sions on their own.
23. How could we communicate management
decisions more effectively?
I can’t remember exactly where I heard it for the first time, but I
do remember the general circumstances. There was a group of us
seated around a table. Flipcharts covered the walls, and markers
and half-used Post-it notepads littered the table. Our work had
progressed nicely up until the last agenda item. Our task was to
agree on a way to disseminate information on a recent decision.
The conversation seemed to go around in circles. Someone took
a deep breath, made eye contact with each of us and said, “Do you
think it’s likely that we can develop any sort of communication
plan by continuing to pool our ignorance about how this decision
was made?” What a wonderful question. That’s exactly what we
were doing, talking about something we had no real information
about or insight into, and yet it took a courageous questioner to
point us in the right direction. We adjourned the meeting and
went out to do our homework. We couldn’t talk about a decision
until we understood it. Asking How could we communicate manage-
ment decisions more effectively? can save you from expending effort
based on ignorance.
Wanting to provide helpful context for a management decision
isn’t enough. You have to discover what communication format
will send your message most effectively. Communication based on
a one-size-fits-all philosophy is wrong more often than it is right.
Communication delivered one time, in one way, will never satisfy
people’s needs to understand. Asking this question will help you
determine an effective communication strategy. Asking it over time
and monitoring the changing answers will help you (and others in
your organization) formulate communication strategies that really
add value. Remember, from the customer’s perspective, an inter-
action with an employee is the basis upon which they judge the
organization. Doesn’t it make sense to be sure that all employees—
from janitors to senior vice presidents—know and understand
what’s going on?
By the way, there is no excuse for not getting your internal com-
munications right. In this day of instant, easy, and inexpensive com-
munications technology, those organizations that don’t do a great
job communicating with their teams and employees are, I would bet,
experiencing higher than industry average turnover, lower than
average morale, and increasing customer complaints. This might be
a good time to review how creatively you’re using the communica-
tions technology you have and to develop some new strategies to get
your key messages and decisions from one end of the organization
to the other.
24. If you could change one thing about our
organization’s collective behavior, what
would it be?
Many organizations develop a list of values—conduct they uphold
as their guide for the behavior of all employees. These values are
often published and distributed. Too often, these values are thought
to be real just because they’ve been put on paper, but they become
fiction in practice. Values are too important to exist only on paper—
they need to live in an organization’s daily activities.
The challenge successful leaders should give themselves is to use
their values as a measurement and evaluation tool. Leaders need to
praise and encourage the good behaviors, monitor the difference
between actual and desired behaviors, and correct bad behaviors
before they become institutionalized. The challenge for most lead-
ers is to maintain an accurate picture of the real state of their work-
place. This question can help you do just that. When leaders
Advice is what we ask for
when we already know the
answer but wish we didn’t.
—Erica Jong, American writer
understand that organizations, like people, have both good and bad
habits, there is potential for positive change. Finding the gaps
between what gets said and what gets done gives you a place to start.
Think about what you would (and have) done when confronted
with situations where your stated values have been contradicted. If
you say you have respect for people in your values statement, would
you fire your top salesperson because they repeatedly berated the
clerical staff? If you value creativity, would you decline a job because
you couldn’t see any way of adding innovation to the client’s exist-
ing processes? If, according to your mission statement, customers
come first, would you withhold a bonus for the vice president of cus-
tomer service when your customer service targets were missed?
What about your own bonus? Do you practice what you preach?
Believe me, if you don’t live your stated values, there will be gaps
between the behavior you want your organization to practice and
the behavior I’d observe if I spent time with your people. Finding
those gaps should be your priority, unless, of course, you want to
revise that value list you so proudly print in your annual report.
This question begs for a follow-up. Try this one—How can we get
our behavior back on track?—and listen well.
25. What’s a potential benefit we could offer
that would be helpful to you?
This question is very specific, and it might not apply to you, but if
you have any input on employee benefits or if you have responsi-
bility for benefit recommendations or decisions, ask away.
Over the years I’ve noticed a small, common behavior between
partners in successful and happy long-term relationships. When a
holiday or birthday approaches, they have a conversation that
starts something like this: “What’s on your list this year?” I wish I
could convey the warm tone of voice that’s behind this simple sen-
tence. Don’t allow yourself to read it with disinterest or sarcasm
because that’s not the way it is said by these partners. Don’t jump
to the conclusion that it’s said at every gift opportunity either.
These partners haven’t abandoned the notion of a surprise, but
they have come to realize that gifts that are grounded in real needs
are better investments.
What does this have to do with employee benefits? A lot. Years
ago our workplaces were filled with a fairly homogeneous group of
people. Deciding on a new benefit was fairly easy. But, in case you
haven’t looked recently, things have changed. In one department
you probably have a Baby Boomer looking at retirement issues, an
older GenX with young children, a younger GenX looking for
opportunities to learn and develop new skills either with you or
someone else, and a GenY starting their working life. Your employ-
ees are increasingly diverse—different races, ethnic backgrounds,
and life experiences. The Vietnam War and protests, the assassina-
tion of JFK, and mornings with Captain Kangaroo are seminal
events and icons for some and ancient history for others. Desert
Storm, the Challenger explosion, and MTV hold the same positions
for others. One size does not fit all in this group; in truth, one size
doesn’t even fit most!
As you work to provide benefits for your employees while being
a good steward of your organization’s resources, you need specific
information about the people in your organization. Benefit pro-
grams that don’t meet the varied needs of your employees are a
waste and reflect poor leadership. Asking this question won’t make
these decisions easy, but it will make you a better decision-maker.
26. What is it like to work on a team in our
If anyone is taking a vote on the most misused business word, let me
know. I want to place a vote. The word team is often used to describe
any group of people working on a task. Team, however, actually
means something very specific. A team is a collection of people with
a shared, meaningful purpose and an emotional connection who
work together toward a common goal. This isn’t the place to debate
the definition or the value of teams, but this is the place to consider
the importance of asking What is it like to work on a team in our orga-
nization? if you do consider your organization to be team-based.
The answers to this question will be greatly dependent on the
team’s current situation. Teams, like individuals, departments, and
organizations, have good days and bad days, and the answer to this
question will be influenced by which kind of day it is. After listen-
ing to a litany of problems or a joyful description of successes, you’ll
need to probe further. Your intent in asking this question is to
uncover the totality of a team’s experience in your organization.
If people mention a lack of support, scarcity of resources, insuf-
ficient recognition, or endless meetings that seem to be a waste of
time, pay attention. Teams don’t just happen. You can’t expect that
by putting a group of smart people into a room together and call-
ing them a team, they’ll become one. Teams need to be nurtured,
and that’s the job of a leader. Based on the answers you get to this
question, it might be time to review how you form, train, and launch
your teams. Maybe you need to review the charters of your existing
teams. How about planning some project reviews that not only look
at a team’s progress toward their goals but that also include a review
of how effectively the team is working together.
Somewhere, in a positive answer to this question, people might
talk eagerly about the opportunities they’ve had to learn new things,
develop new skills, and nurture new relationships. When you get
these kinds of responses, you’ve learned that the team experience in
your organization is shaping up to both the member’s and the orga-
nization’s benefit.
27. How do you feel at the start of your
This question marks a change in the focus of our inquiries. Until
now the questions have asked people to share the facts and infor-
mation they know. Fact and information answers are important—in
fact, business runs on them. But they don’t tell the whole story.
Organizations are filled with people, and people are filled with feel-
ings. Leaders who believe that they can focus their work on the tasks
at hand and leave the “soft stuff” to the human resources department
shouldn’t really call themselves leaders! If you choose to continue to
accept my challenge and focus your attention on the way people feel
about working in your organization, the next several questions are
the perfect place to start. Remember, the process is simple—ask, lis-
ten, and say thanks. Take the risk. I know you can do it.
Remember those questions on intelligence tests that give you a list
of words and then ask which word doesn’t belong? Try this one:
Enthusiasm, Passion, Excitement, Fun, Work. What is your answer?
Hopefully, you came to the conclusion that this was an example of a
poorly constructed or trick question. They all go together, don’t they?
Or, maybe you’re wearing your Dilbert hat and wonder why any-
one would bother to ask such an obvious question. Work has noth-
ing to do with those other words. If that’s your response, shame on
you! Think of the energy an organization would have if everyone in
it agreed that enthusiasm, passion, excitement, fun, and work were
synonyms. What could your organization accomplish if just half
your employees believed that? Has it occurred to you that even
15 percent would be an improvement? Are you clueless about how
people feel when they enter your doors? Believe me, how your
employees feel as they start their workweek provides great insight
about how they’ll interact with each other and with your customers.
When you decide to start talking about the feelings that fill your
workplace, make a commitment to find, support, and showcase the
positive ones. Don’t read that to mean you should ignore or dismiss
the negative emotions; just don’t make them the center of your
action. Look for ways to increase enthusiasm for solving problems,
ignite passion for learning, encourage excitement around success,
foster fun as a stress reliever, and discourage seeing work as a four-
letter word. You’ll be doing your job.
28. How do you feel at the end of your
Watching people as they enter the workplace at the beginning of the
workweek gives you one view of organizational morale. Watching
them as they leave at the end of the week gives you a different per-
spective. That’s why both questions are included as significant ques-
tions to ask.
What you’re really asking with this question is What does our
work environment do to your spirit? This is a question asked by brave
leaders. The answer you’re looking for goes something like this.
“Let me think. At the end of the week I’m exhausted and exhila-
rated. Some weeks it’s more one than the other, but it’s always a
combination of both.” Exhaustion means that a person has given
their all when they do their work. Exhilaration means that they
believe that their work has meaning and that they have derived sat-
isfaction from doing it.
The answers you’re apt to get when you ask this question might
be very different from the one I outlined. In fact, the answer you get
to this question might be an uneasy giggle followed by silence, a
confused look with a mumbled “Why do you care,” or a blunt “It’s
none of your business.” Those answers tell you a lot, too. Leaders
ignore the spirit in their workplace at their own peril. Don’t ask this
question unless you intend to take action to change the status quo.
Before you turn the page, allow me to ask you a quick question:
How do you feel at the end of your workweek? Do the words “exhausted”
and “exhilarated” play a part in your answer?
29. What volunteer work do you do?
At one time in my life, I worked for a temporary agency. One of the
assignments they sent me to was at a large manufacturing plant
where my job consisted of answering the phone for a department.
(Just a quick aside. Why would an organization put a temporary
employee in a front-line, customer contact position? I cringe when
I remember how many times I said I was sorry because I had no idea
how to answer a customer’s question. I was sorry until I realized that
I seemed to be the only one who cared.)
During the week I worked there, I overheard the leaders of the
department talking about the lack of creativity their people exhib-
ited. Later the same day, I observed the team working out a creative
solution to a major problem facing their company bowling team.
I’ve thought about that contradiction a lot since then. I’ve learned
I also have learned that when
we begin listening to each
other, and when we talk about
things that matter to us, the
world begins to change
—Margaret J. Wheatley,
American scientist and writer
that the leaders were right in one way. In an environment that
doesn’t expect people to be creative, they won’t be creative.
However, those same people will be creative in an environment that
challenges them to be creative. I’ve also learned that those leaders
could have had a creative workforce if they had asked, What volun-
teer work do you do?
People volunteer for causes they believe in and for jobs in which
they can put their skills to good use. Think about what you’d learn
about the hidden talents in your organization by asking this ques-
tion. You may be surprised by the people you discover. An accoun-
tant that coaches a winning soccer team. An administrative assistant
who teaches watercolor painting at the local community college.
A customer service representative who leads a fund-raising cam-
paign. “So what?” you may ask. So what indeed. Look at the hidden
talents you didn’t know about or, more importantly, didn’t expect.
This is a question that requires listening to the answer without reac-
tion. You may hear some responses that challenge strongly held
beliefs, and it is human nature to let that incredulity show on your
face. Keep in mind that a look that expresses surprise or curiosity is
okay. Incredulity is an insult.
Many of the specifics you learn when asking this question won’t
have practical application—unless, of course, you’d like your admin-
istrative assistant to illustrate your monthly reports. But these
answers will force you to look at the people you work with through
new eyes, seeing different possibilities, and changing some limiting
expectations. This kind of challenge is good for a leader.
30. What makes you proud of working as a part
of our organization?
The company knew they had to do something. Customer satisfac-
tion ratings were dropping, employee turnover was rising, and
nobody wanted to talk about morale. Serious competition was loom-
ing. A group of leaders were appointed to do something about the
situation and to do it fast. Meeting after meeting produced idea after
idea. Consultants were hired, and a final decision was reached.
“We’ll create a video that tells everyone why they should be happy
that they work here,” they decided. “We’ll prove that the future’s
bright by showing our grandly produced video to everyone. Spare
no expense,” they said. “Just get it done.”
So, the script was written, the actors were hired, and the locations
scouted. Production began and money was spent. The final version
was shown to the executive team and they beamed at each other.
This would do it; things would change now. After all, they had
spared no expense.
Employees were ushered into the meeting room and given plas-
tic cups filled with sparkling grape juice. The lights dimmed and the
video began. The music was powerful and the videography impres-
sive. The leaders sitting in the front of the room led the applause
and raised their glasses in a toast to the renewed commitment they
were certain everyone in attendance felt. People filed out of the
room talking about their weekend plans. That’s when I heard one of
the participants say, “I can’t believe they’re trying to get us to put
our hats back on with that crap!”
No one else seemed to hear his comment. Curious, I followed
him out of the building and asked, “What hat?”
“Oh,” he replied offhandedly, “When I first started, fifteen years
ago, we all had hats with the company’s name and logo. I was like
most guys; we wore them all the time. We wanted everyone to know
where we worked. We were proud to work here. I haven’t worn my
hat for a long time.”
Many organizations, in an attempt to improve morale, spend dol-
lars, time, and energy externally and forget that morale is an inside
job. Please don’t ask consultants to help you improve morale in your
organization. Start by asking this question yourself of the people on
your team, really listen to the answers, and go to work.
31. What’s something you’ve learned in the
past week?
Here’s a thought. School’s never out for the professional. How does
that make you feel? Excited or depressed? Continuous formal learn-
ing, whether in the university classroom or the corporate training
room, is a necessity—not a luxury—for all of us. But there is
another, informal style of learning that leaders need to encourage.
It is learning because of curiosity and need.
I was at a speaker showcase several years ago when I heard a pre-
senter by the name of Bob Prichard say, “When you’re not learn-
ing—someone somewhere else is. When you meet—guess who has
the advantage.” I’ve carried that concept with me every day since.
As a leader, you need to ask yourself if you could honestly say that
your team is smarter today than they were a year ago. If they are, do
you know how they got that way? Good business means, in part,
replicating effective behavior, but you can’t replicate behavior that
you don’t know about. Start asking questions about learning.
Finding out how your people learn can be a fascinating exercise.
You’ll find those who learn by doing, some who learn by listening,
and others who need to see a picture (either real or imagined)
before something sinks in. The advantage of a supported do-it-
yourself learning environment is that everyone can have their
learning the way they need it. You can be part of the support pro-
cess. Does your organization have a library? Does it have both
books and books on tape? Are there whiteboards and flipcharts
available for everyone’s use? Do you understand that doodling,
muttering under your breath, and standing up during a meeting
can all be signs of a person learning? It appears as though there could be a lot for you to learn.
Why bother? Because of the competition. You can bet they’re
learning, and if they are and you aren’t, the future starts looking
dim. So, start asking a few questions. Who knows, you might learn
32. What brings you joy in your work?
Some people live their lives as though joy were a very limited
resource. As if they were allocated an amount at birth, squandered
much of their share during childhood and must now, as responsible
adults, hoard their remaining supply for some unspecified time in
the future. Given these parameters, why would anyone in their right
mind waste joy on work?
Let me think. Artists often do. Teachers do, I hope. The waiter
at my favorite Wausau restaurant, The Back When Café, does. The
vendors I do repeat business with do. The most successful leaders
I’ve known do. The organizations that thrive, year in and year out,
do. If you agree with the conventional wisdom that joy is an endan-
gered species, then these people are fools. The day will come when
they’ll simply run out of their allotment of joy—and won’t you have
the last laugh then. However, what if they’re wrong? What if you
run out of life with your allotment of joy untouched?
Work is a great place to express joy. If you look, you’ll see that
there are so many little opportunities for happiness when you work
with people you respect, do tasks that make a difference, and use the
talents you’ve been given. If you read that and don’t agree that your
job affords those possibilities, then you’re either in the wrong job or
not paying attention. No matter which is true, you can and should
make some changes.
Remember these thoughts as you listen to the answers to this
question. Do people find joy in their work at your organization?
What are the implications for you if they don’t? You can help peo-
ple find joy in their work by showing them how what they do mat-
ters. Many people in today’s workplace have no idea how the
things they do on a daily basis affect the success or failure of their
organization. A receptionist needs to understand that the way he
answers a phone could make or break the biggest deal your organi-
zation may ever have. A filing clerk needs to know that her daily
efforts make it possible for the customer service team to respond
quickly to a customer request. A pipe fitter deserves to look at the
architect’s drawing and know that, because of her efforts, the build-
ing she’s working on will shelter the children at a daycare center. It
is your job to help all team members understand the importance of
their work. Do that and watch the joy spread.
33. What do you do just for the fun of it?
This is a great question for people who find it hard to listen. Your
assignment when you ask this question is to watch even more than
you listen. Watch people’s faces light up, their bodies relax, and their
voices resonate with energy. Don’t stop listening to what they’re say-
ing, but pay special attention to the transformation. The answers
will be as varied as the people who give them, but the physical
changes will be similar. There is a physical response when people
talk about or do something that brings them glee.
That’s why laughter is important in the workplace. Hey, stress
is a part of our work life that isn’t going to go away. Hard work,
repetitive tasks, and frightening situations all cause stress in the
workplace. But not all stress is bad. The things we do for fun are
often hard work (ever try to dig out a garden?), repetitive (ever quilt
a bedspread?), or scary (bungee jumping, anyone?). But we have fun
doing those activities. Understanding that what feels like fun for
one person can cause negative stress in another is a valuable lesson.
Leaders who learn about the fun profiles of their people can use
that information creatively when handing out assignments. You
might have people whose eyes sparkle when they talk about their
latest work endeavor.
There’s a bonus for listening to the answers to this question.
You’ll be amazed at the hidden skills you’ll uncover. There will be
stories of confident leadership, technical ingenuity, and amazing
creativity. You’ll discover writers, salespeople, and inventors in your
midst. One leader I know, after being overwhelmed by the answers
he received from asking this question, arranged a special interest
fair over a lunch hour. Based on the response to displays people cre- ated and the conversations that occurred during the exhibits, the
company dedicated a room and developed a series of How To…
classes organized and run by a volunteer committee. Their people
now come in early and stay late to learn a language, paint a picture,
and master spreadsheet development for kid’s sports teams. It’s a
fun place to work.
34. What gives your life meaning?
This is a dangerous question to ask and if you haven’t established a
reputation as a careful listener, a credible confidant, and a thought-
ful leader, don’t ask it. If you do ask it without these credentials, you
will be perceived as nosey, intrusive, and even phony.
Walk into your favorite bookstore or log on to and
look for books about meaning and purpose in your life and work.
You’ll find lots of them. Even if you can’t bring yourself to leave the
business books, you’ll find chapters on purpose and meaning in
almost all those books too. Finding meaning in life is important.
Before you run around dropping this question on others, you
need to answer it for yourself. It’s okay if you can’t answer this ques-
tion when you ask it for the first time of others, so long as you are
willing to share your ongoing quest for your own answer. This ques-
tion is actually more about the process then an answer. Some peo-
ple find their purpose early in life, some grow into an understanding,
and others need many years and experiences to reach an Aha! It is
the people who never ask themselves the question who miss out.
Find Viktor Frankel’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, read it, and
give copies away. Ponder Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is
not worth living,” and have it printed on cards that you can give to
others. Listen to what others say (and don’t say) when you ask this question, and be willing to ask it of yourself.
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
Okay, you’ve asked a lot of varied questions. Now what? Well, first,
ask yourself what you learned—about yourself.
What did it feel like asking all these questions? Was it uncom-
fortable at first and easier as you practiced? Maybe you discovered
that you got impatient having to listen as people went on and on
with their answers. Perhaps you’re not as good a listener as you
thought you were. You might have found yourself eagerly listening
to something you never dreamed could capture your interest. I hope
you found that people became more eager to talk to you and that
your reputation as a leader grew—not because you had all the
answers, but because you asked the very best questions.
What did you learn about the people in your organization? How
different are they and how much do they have in common? How
often were you surprised by something you didn’t know about their
That is the essence of science:
Ask an impertinent question,
and you are on the way to a
pertinent answer.
—Jacob Bronowski,
Polish mathematician
work, their concerns, and their caring? I hope you have a better
understanding about the responsibilities of a leader. Of course, you
need to make sure the work gets done and your customers are sat-
isfied, but your job is more than that. The bottom line for a leader
covers it all, finances and fears, productivity and passion, share-
holder value and living your values.
What are you going to do with the answers? Is it time for an
action plan, a leadership team retreat, or an all-employee meeting?
Do you need to revisit your mission, vision, and value statements?
Revamp your training programs? Or reconfigure your offices? You’re
the only one who can figure it out, but you know what you need to
do. So, start doing it. And while you’re at it, keep asking questions.
You’ll be a better leader for it!
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
1. Which of the questions in this chapter did you find most chal-
lenging? Why?
2. What other questions did this chapter make you think of?
3. How do you feel about asking more personal questions of the
people who work for you? Why?
4. How did your people react to your asking these kinds of questions?
5. Why do you think they had that reaction?
6. What is the one thing you want to remember most from this

Aucun commentaire: