Why Leaders Should Ask More and Tell Less

One of the biggest challenges I see from some Leader / Managers when giving feedback is that they prescribe solutions that will work for them. These prescribed solutions can come in the form of ‘telling’ the person what they should do to address a performance issue, solve a problem or how to write a report or achieve a goal. This is done with the best intentions of the Leader / Manager however, if you always choose this route, are you really empowering your Team Member?

When running Training Workshops or Leadership Training Modules on ‘How to Give Feedback Effectively’ I use Role Playing to aid the learning and embedding of a new way of working.   In a typical Role Play, I assign a Leader who gives the feedback, a Team Member who receives the feedback and an Observer who observes how the Leader behaves during the Role Play as well as how the Team Member reacts / responds to the feedback.

I use standard feedback models such as:

C – Clarify with context (what you expect of the person and what good looks like – what the expected base line level is)

E –  Explain with examples – good if relevant and bad if the person isn’t reaching the level expected and outlined at the C stage (above)

D – Diagnose and discuss what is going on with the person by asking lots of questions (see my blog from January of this year on how to ask better questions)

A – Agree actions – this is where the Team Member comes up with actions they can take that will help them achieve the goal or in other words, what’s outlined at the C stage (above)

R – Review what’s expected of both of you and then agree a follow up meeting

I particularly like this model as the Leader has plenty of opportunities to ask great questions at the D and A stages.

So, for example when you are at the D stage, then use questions like:

  • How do you see it?
  • What’s going on for you?
  • What’s happening for you right now?
  • What do you think is holding you back from achieving the goal?
  • What is preventing you from achieving what’s expected of you? (Refer to stage C)

The purpose of asking these type of questions is to help you find out what is actually going on for the person from their perspective and not what you assume is going on.

Here however is sometimes how stage D usually plays out:

  • I don’t understand your behaviour / your thinking?
  • Why didn’t you do it properly / quicker?
  • You do know that this is what’s expected of someone at your level?
  • And so on …..

When you know what is going on for someone, then you can help them to look at ways to achieve their goal / objective.  You do this by asking them questions on how they can address their situation – this is the A stage.  They know what works best for them.  When you prescribe your solutions to their situations, you are prescribing a fix that will work for you and not necessarily for them.

Here are some good stage A questions to use:

  • What options are available to help you achieve the expectation / goal set out for you?
  • How would you achieve that?  Break it down step by step
  • What could you do differently to help you achieve the expected level(s)?
  • What did you do previously that worked for you and how can you apply it here?
  • What else could you do?
  • If time / resources etc weren’t an issue, what else could you do?  (This might seem like a strange question but it works exceptionally well as it frees up a person’s thinking. There may well be some parts of the action or solution they come up with that they can successfully implement).

Here however, is sometimes how stage A usually plays out:

  • Just do this, this and this
  • If you apply yourself, you’ll succeed
  • Try this  ……… , it works for me
  • You’re well able to achieve this goal

OK some of the above may be helpful but who ‘owns’ the actions / solutions?  Yes, you do and therefore, the person can find it difficult to buy into what works for you.  It’s better if you ask good questions so they can come up with their own actions and solutions. That way, they’ve then bought themselves into solving the problem / achieving the goal ……

It is useful to provide your input in the A stage however, give the person plenty of opportunities to come up with actions of their own first.

The R stage of the model is very simply what is noted above.  You both review the actions assigned to you and set a date to review the progress on them.  For serious performance issues or weaknesses in performance, I’d suggest you’d review on a weekly basis until the person is up to speed.   Once they show a consistency in achieving their goals, then you can cut back to review their actions to once every 3 – 4 weeks.

Once you implement the ‘ask more, tell less’ approach, you’ll find your Team Members will come to you with not just a problem but actions and solutions they can take to solve it.