Do You Tell Or Ask?

Creating change with your people and your organisation is a commitment. You cannot say “I wish this, or I wish that” and expect things to change. When you make a commitment to change, you must say “I will do this, or I will do that.” What commitment to change are you going to make?

When in a conversation with your team, do you ask them questions, or do you do most of the talking? What kind of questions do you ask? Open or closed questions? Highly effective leaders know that by asking a member of their team a question is a lot more powerful than giving them a direction.

So, to make a more powerful impact with the individual they ask lots of questions.

Being part of teams that were managed and not led, we got asked lots of questions too by the manager. But, they were different types of questions. They were not thought provoking questions that would influence you to think deeply.

Managers of people only seek the right amount of information needed for them to make their decision and then give a direction. They are not interested in listening to your ideas on the subject, or any recommendations that you may have.

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1. Why Ask Questions?

Highly effective leaders ask lots of questions because they want the team to think deeply about the subject, and in the end make the decision or come up with the solution. The only direction the highly effective leader gives is through the types of questions they ask, open questions (Who, What, Where, Why, How).

Thought provoking questions. Highly effective leaders don’t want to make the decisions for the team. If they did then the team would not grow, they would stay stagnant.

The only way to help the team grow is by helping them to think and act for themselves, and asking great, thought provoking, open questions is an excellent way to do that.

When you ask your people questions, you are building a stronger relationship with them, and building trust. It shows them that you care about them, and that you value their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You are showing them respect.

Not just talking at them in a one way conversation. It is a two way street. Your people, or person will feel closer to you, and feel part of the team. It becomes a “we” situation, not “us and them”.

2. Opening Up To Your People

When you ask your people questions, you are opening yourself up. You are letting your guard down, and actually inviting your people to influence you. If they can influence you, you are showing them that you have listened and that you understand what they are telling you, what they are feeling, and that you are there for them.

If you allow yourself to be influenced, then your influence will increase too, and you will find it a lot easier to gain buy-in and build trust with your people.

When you ask your people questions, you are allowing your team to take ownership. When they take ownership of the situation, they are far more likely to work with you and their teammates to come to a solution, and make a decision.

3. Decision Making

When the team are involved in making the decisions, they feel like more of a team, and you will receive the respect in return that you are giving to them.

When you ask your people questions, you are digging deep into the minds of your people. They are opening up to you by thinking deeply, and when you dig, you will start to understand their minds and how they think. Do they have a leader’s mindset?

Do they have the potential for a highly effective leader’s mindset? When you find that out, you will know which members of your team have the capacity and are willing to lead right now, and who still needs to work on it. When you have this information, it will be far easier to know who to focus on and make a priority.

When you ask your people questions, you are empowering them. Empowering is an overused term in leadership, and a lot of the time for the wrong reason. Empowering means that you are sharing the responsibility with your people.

You are inviting their opinions, ideas, and recommendations. You are encouraging decision making. You are not dictating to them, you are empowering them. Asking questions is a great way to empower someone.

When you ask your people questions, you are giving them the chance to open up about their frustrations, and what they have on their minds. Most people keep their frustrations to themselves. But, when you ask questions, the person finds it easier to let go of their frustrations and talk about them.

This gives you the opportunity to set things straight, if what they are thinking is incorrect. Or, it gives you the opportunity to help them change how they feel about a certain issue. But, most of all it gives you the opportunity to listen.

When you ask your people questions, you are creating a mastermind. A mastermind is a group of minds that are on the same wavelength, not just one. The leader cannot think of everything by themselves (like my situation as performance manager with Siemens).

When they understand this, and invite the team’s minds too, they will understand that many minds is far better than one mind. Creating a mastermind environment gives everybody the opportunity to contribute and give their opinions, ideas, solutions, and recommendations.

When this happens the team feels like a synergy. It creates an environment of freedom to express yourself, open up, and be yourself.

Creating a mastermind group within your own team is a great thing to do. I have done it, and the feeling you get from it is amazing. Especially when everybody contributes. This environment encourages discussion, teamwork, and allows everyone to empathise with each other.

It brings the team closer together. When you ask questions of the mastermind group, you can actually see your team growing and developing as they answer the questions. If they get stuck then another member of the mastermind will help. It is wonderful to see. I would encourage you to do the same with your team.

4. Opportunity For Growth And Development

Asking lots and lots of questions also gives you the opportunity to grow and develop. The more questions you ask, the better your questions will become. The more questions you ask, the deeper you can dig into the minds of your people, and create highly effective leaders within them.

The more questions you ask, the team will give you better answers, better solutions, and ultimately better decision making.

If you ask a poor question, then you will get a poor answer. If you ask a good question, then you will get a good answer. If you as a great question, you will get a great answer.

Always keep in mind, asking questions doesn’t mean you do most of the talking. By asking questions, you are giving yourself the opportunity to listen, not talk. We still need to listen 80% of the time. The questions we ask are giving our people the opportunity to speak, not you.

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Always remember that, and always remember you can ask more than one question in a conversation. The more great questions you ask, the more great answers you will receive.

Low performing leaders answer questions with very short answers that gives their people just the right amount of information. Or, in my experience, most of the time gives you no information at all. They just want to get rid of your question because they don’t know how to answer it.

However, a highly effective leader will answer a question from their people with a question. They know that if they give them the answer, they are not growing the person.

But, if they ask a question in return of the question then they are helping their person grow by getting them to think for themselves. Thought provoking questions is an excellent way to grow your people.

By accepting responsibility for the future of yourself, and your people, you will have the power to create the opportunities you need, to build the future you see in front of you. What does the future look like? What is your vision?

I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.

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All the best,

Tom (LeadGrowInfluence)

20 thoughts on “Do You Tell Or Ask?

  1. Hi Tom, I don’t understand one of the points you are talking about. You said “creating a mastermind group within your own team”, which gives me the impression you’re talking about part of the team? It seems to me counterproductive if that is the case, because of the division other team members will feel?
    But maybe I misunderstand you completely.

    Asking questions is not only beneficial in an office situation, but also on a personal level. We are always so quick to give our opinion when talking with a friend, when maybe it would be better to ask questions to show you are really listening and not just involved in your own thoughts.
    I might have mentioned earlier that I was reading “Socrates on sneakers” (unfortunately only available in Dutch) which handles about asking questions all the time. 🙂

    1. Hi Hannie,

      Thank you for your comment. You have misunderstood me when I mention the mastermind group.

      I mean the whole team, not part of the team. Having a mastermind environment within your own team is not counter-productive, it is very productive.

      I completely agree that asking questions goes beyond the office and the workplace, as does leadership.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  2. This is great info for a boss to know. Do you tell or ask? I think a boss should have to go through a training with all of these suggestions you have shared here. I’m planning to download your ebook today!

    1. Hi Alyse,

      Thank you for your comment and I hope you enjoy the e-book when you download it.

      I would love for your to share this article and your newly downloaded e-book with your team and your boss, if you think it will help.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  3. Hello, a great article you have here. I’ve been a boss a couple of times and I can say that it is not easy being a boss…

    I preferred to ask my people instead of telling them what to do. I get better respect from the employees when asking to do something than being told to do it.

    Thank you for sharing this article I enjoy reading it
    Lyne

    1. Hi Line,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased that you found this a great article.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences of being a boss, and you are right, it is not easy being a boss at all. Leadership is extremely difficult work but is is totally necessary to put in this hard work if we want to lead a great team.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  4. Hey Tom, thanks for sharing another very informative article. I agree with you completely. Asking the right questions to your team increases the mind powers of the group and will lead to a better understanding of your team as a whole. I like how you have induced som much content on decision making. This is a highly important skill that could be developed by asking questions. I always do the research that involves a set of questions before I make a decision. I believe the same apply for a group of people too. Thanks again for sharing and keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Ivan,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s great that you found this article informative.

      I couldn’t agree with you more that asking the right questions increases the mind powers of the team and will enable us to increase our influence. Decision making is a highly important skills and is one that must be shared between the team, and the decision must be taken as a collective.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  5. Without asking questions nothing gets done but the approach is so important especially within a team.

    Asking certainly should bring the team closer and opens up a discussion which can expand beyond the initial question.

    Having a team where you can open up and communicate is great but I remember as a permanent employee that we tended to have more than what I perceived as the usual number of meetings.

    In fact so much so that it became a standing joke that a meeting was to decide on the next one.

    Communication can be difficult if a person is not confident or doesn’t like the job they are doing and that’s when taking them to one side is sometimes best to avoid embarrassment.

    I used to find it difficult sometimes as a software developer having to relate to the users because they always spoke as if you knew everything.

    Thank you, Tom, for sharing your wealth of experience and another great post.

    1. Hi Mick,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you found this a great post and I love to share my knowledge with you.

      I love how you say that asking questions will help to bring the team closer, and it does. I have found this in the teams I have led when I ask them the right kinds of questions.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  6. Hi Tom,

    This article is full of excellent advice! I honestly wish all employers would read this and take it into consideration, because I feel like too many bosses don’t respect – or empower, as you point out – their employees by asking questions.

    I’m a huge fan of asking questions and getting people’s input when I’m leading in something. I think it makes everyone happier with the end result, since everyone feels like they contributed and were an integral part of the project, and they feel validated as well.

    I actually also wanted to bring up this idea and relate it parenting. I’m not a parent myself yet, but I have a lot of babysitting experience and I’ve dabbled in teaching, and in my (admittedly limited) experience, it seems like kids also feel much more validated and are much more willing to listen to and respect you when you ask them questions too. Just like in the business/leader environment, though, there are also times when you do have to put your foot down and discipline, and that’s the part that I struggle with most in both instances.

    Are there any parents on this thread? Can you confirm my theory, or do you disagree?

    Thanks for such a great article, Tom!
    ~Jade

    1. Hi Jade,

      Thank you for your thorough comment. It’s great that you found some excellent advice from my article.

      You are right, there are far too many bosses who don’t respect, empower, or inspire. I am on a mission to help these bosses change their ways and become more of an an inspirational leader for their people.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  7. Hi Tom!
    I didn’t hear about the expression “mastermind” – it is great to know that. Thanks for sharing this post! I know from my previous job that the leader who doesn’t speak enough to his/her team, influenced badly on a team. Our boss didn’t ask any questions, just gave assignments, and I think people felt very afraid and hesitant to ask anything. Maybe he was not professional enough or just arrogant. I’m sure that a good leader is such a blessing for the team, and everyone who wants to be a good leader must consider first how other people from the team will feel and imagine yourself on their spot.
    All the best,
    Alex

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you found this article valuable.

      Yes, mastermind is a great term to use when we are talking our group and all sharing the same purpose and discussion. That is what makes a great mastermind. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with your boss as there will be many who can relate to you and learn from you too.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  8. “…When you ask your people questions, you are building a stronger relationship with them, and building trust. It shows them that you care about them, and that you value their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You are showing them respect.”

    This is how I would summarize your post in a nutshell.

    As a digital marketing agency owner, I always try to bring the best out of my employees.

    This might sound silly to you, but I want them to do all the thinking for me (that’s why I hired them), and that’s why I usually encourage and give them 2-3 days to dwell on a subject before they approach me with a solution.

    Their opinion matters to me, and I value them unconditionally. Without them, I am nothing, and my business sinks to the ground.

    To all of your readers – Cherish your employees and treat them with dignity and respect! They are the fuel of your company, and you should treat them as such!

    1. Hi Gorjan,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that this article resonated with you.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with your team and I love how you give them the freedom to think and help you to make decisions on your digital marketing agency.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  9. When I first learnt about personal development I had to learn that questions were the most powerful things to have as a sales person of any kind which includes a boss.
    You put it quiet well here and very precise

    1. Hi Thabo,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s great that you think this is a precise article.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  10. Hi Tom,

    Another enlightening piece on this all important topic of leadership. And boy don’t we need more of this kind of stuff because if there’s anything we need today whether in the home, at work or the public arena – good and wise leaders.

    I couldn’t agree more with you on the value of asking questions. I believe it was JFK who said that leadership and learning are indispensable. And any wise leader knows that. They know that to keep being effective you have to continue to learn and what better way to do so by staying curious, asking lots of questions. Plus often times, your team have the answers to problems, and all you have to do is ask open intelligent questions.

    Thank you again for reminding us of these simple but highly effective leadership behaviours.

    Cheers
    Femi

    1. Hi Femi,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased that you found this article enlightening.

      I really appreciate you sharing your insights on the value of asking questions. There will be many people who will be able relate to you and more importantly learn from you.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

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