Lead With Questions

Valued cartoonAs leaders, we often have an employee come to us with an issue or problem. As “make it happen” managers, we then focus on getting the problem solved and getting it done as quickly as possible. Thus, we take charge, tell the employee what to do, and are done with it.

But, to be an effective leader, we must resist this urge.

Instead, we need to lead with questions:

  1. What is your (the employee) solution to the problem?
  2. Why do you feel that this solution is the best action to take?
  3. After thinking it through, what are the consequences and possible unintended side effects of your solution?


“Successful leaders ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”  Anthony Robbins


By leading with questions, we are coaching and developing that employee. Done properly (with insightful and leading questions), the employee solves the problem himself. Or the employee recognizes a flaw in her thinking and changes her decision. Either way, the employee learns and becomes vested in the decision.

Leading with questions and coaching benefits everyone involved and the organization:

  1. The employee hones her critical thinking skills
    1. The employee has to work out all issues, think through the consequences, and decide on a course of action.
    2. These higher level strategic thinking skills are exactly what is needed in all organizations
  2. The employee feels respected and empowered
    1. When a manager leads with questions and then truly hears what the employee is saying, the employee feels listened to and respected.
    2. This leads to improved motivation and engagement
  3. The leader does not become a crutch for the employee
    1. As the employee develops her strategic thinking skills and confidence, she becomes less likely to go to her manager for advice on similar issues.
    2. Instead, she just makes the decision herself on her own

With a confident and strategic thinking employee empowered to make decisions, the autonomy and accountability of the employee increases:

  • It is his solution that he is implementing.
  • And he owns the solution.

Further, with decisions made and problems solved at a lower level, the speed of decision making in the overall organization accelerates.



In order to make it happen for the organization overall, the leader needs to not “make it happen” on each individual decision. Instead, the leader needs to coach and lead with questions to help the employee come up with the solution herself.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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