The two most important questions for leaders to ask employees

Bruno Rooselaer · 23 March 2021 · 3 minute read
The two most important questions for leaders to ask employees
Inna Bigun/Shutterstock

Few business leaders are aware that there are simple and very cost-effective ways to lift their entire organization to the next level. While logic, reasoning, analysis, intelligence are needed to grow a business, they also limit us from accessing the greatest potential in our organization. For a business to thrive in the long run, we need to include our hearts. Just two simple questions enable leaders to access and unlock that greatest potential.

One of the main reasons for me to start with management consultancy was because I saw time in time again how much potential was lost in companies. As my competences increased over the years, so did my ability to spot lost potential. I did the math. 76% (13 out of 17) of the companies I worked at the past 20 years lost out on employee satisfaction, attracting talent, employer branding, branding, purpose, culture, innovation, strategy, profit and making social, tangible impact in the world.

Of course, it is easy to point fingers about what does not work well. And to put that into the right perspective, running a business with hundreds, thousands or more employees is not for the weak. Keeping all operational, strategic and transformation plates spinning requires immense effort, energy, and stamina. And there is just too little time and too much information to keep track of everything. So how can leaders increase efficiency in these areas AND make their employees happier?

My wish for the corporate world this year is that leaders create the time, and have the courage to ask only two questions to their employees:

  • What can I do to help you grow?
  • How can I do better?

Show interest

The first question displays a genuine interest in the well-being of every employee, and by taking action to help them grow, leaders show they are serious about helping them move forward. Whether employees want to become better at their job by training or by getting mentoring, whether they are pulled to a course that is not completely in line with their current job (but possibly applicable in the organization), whether they want time off to support a family member or for soul searching traveling, what matters is that they are supported in their personal and professional growth.

Ambitious people are likely to leave the company anyway at some point, so leaders may wonder; why put in the effort when we are not sure it will pay off? The answer here is: Try. Measure. Improve. And try again until an approach is built that works for the company. By committing to their growth, they will stay far longer, are far more engaged at the job, and become ambassadors for the company, now, and long after they have left (Gallup, 2019). A report on turnover of 34000 employees in 2019 shows that 20% of employees left their company due to lack of development (Work Institute, 2020).

In the war for talent, employee retention is the battle within leaders’ area of control. And it is one which they are capable of winning when they make the leap from strengthening their identity and status (directly or through their company), to serving a bigger purpose.

Show vulnerability

The second question may be more profound because it displays a great mind-shift. It shows vulnerability where it is least expected. We live in a world where we want to be perceived as strong, assertive, competent and having the answers to everything. Yet we are all human beings doing the best we can with the tools and experience given to us, while we learn as we move forward in life.

It is vulnerability that connects people at the most basic level: our need to be understood and accepted with all our flaws included. By asking this question to employees (and contractors) and being able to understand and accept their point of view without trying to defend oneself, leaders will become better at every level. More so, the entire organization will benefit from leaders asking this simple question. Uncomfortable? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely.

Sounds familiar? Do you face similar challenges in your organization? What prevents you from asking these questions? Let me know in the comments or let's have a chat:



Get more insights to lift your organization to its best level possible.

Original articles, straight to your inbox. Immediate effect in your organization.

Subscribe to new insight articles