The Single Most Important Question You Can Ask Your Employees

As leaders, we are always looking for the right questions to ask our people. When our employees are faced with a challenge it's tempting to give them advice or to tell them what they need to do, but by doing so you impede their growth and cheat yourself from getting some potentially fresh and powerful ideas. Plus, you don't want to be responsible for every decision that needs to be made. You need to save your energy for more critical decisions.

Asking, instead of telling, is one of the hardest behaviors I've had to change as an entrepreneur. Asking the right questions allows your employees to go deeper. It allows them to answer their own questions through a process of self-discovery. It also allows them to take responsibility for what they are accountable for. By working on asking versus telling I've noticed a decline in the number of problems that cross my desk on a daily basis. That simple change alone has had an incredible impact on my business and has allowed me to have more time to focus on the things that matter.

A good leader is constantly engaged in the habit of giving feedback to his people rather than engaging in the de facto method of simply telling, directing, or commanding them. We encourage our employees to be open to feedback because, after all, it's a way we see our blind spots. We encourage them to solicit feedback from their peers, and from their managers so they can be open to the things that others may know about them, but they may not be aware of themselves.

When was the last time you asked for feedback, and I mean powerful, honest feedback about your performance, work ethic or management style, from your people? Despite the fact that we may think we already know what we need to work on, I guarantee that you still have some blind spots of your own. Remember, even professional sports stars, musicians, and even politicians have coaches. None of us can see all of our weakness. In fact, what we may see as a "strength" others see as a fault. With this in mind I decided to take a leap of faith and started experimenting with my team with what I believe is the single most important and powerful question a leader can ask his or her people, which is:

"What's one thing I could stop doing (or be doing differently) that would make it easier to work with me?"

Ouch. If that doesn't make you cringe try reading it again. It's painful. But it's powerful! We have to be willing to touch the place that hurts in order to discover the areas we need to adjust. So take a deep breath, embrace the idea of being vulnerable, and create a safe space that allows them to answer with honesty. Be careful - if you ask for sincere feedback but you become defensive, angry, or hostile, you will have burned a bridge of trust that will take months or years to rebuild with your employee. In fact, they may never, ever be honest with you again and there may be a time in the future where their feedback could save your company. You asked for it so shut up and take it! Respect the other person for being brave enough to take you up on your question. You're the boss, remember? It's intimidating for them to answer you honestly.

I challenge you to lean into the discomfort and ask this question often. Regardless of your opinion, the feedback you receive will always contain a nugget of truth if not an entire harvest. We all know there are things about ourselves we need to work on. We're not fooling anyone, including ourselves when we pretend there's not. If you're not growing personally you can't expect your employees to grow. Whether you see it or not, they look to you to set the example. Why not take some time to discover more about yourself and how you impact others around you? Ask more than one employee, too. Try asking everyone you work with. If you're not quite up to a face-to-face meeting with potentially painful responses, try email, or use a company that specializes in free, anonymous feedback, like Get a variety of answers from a variety of people so you can really get down to business and make the proper adjustments. The temporary pain will be well worth it.