Asking questions as a manager: my top questions revealed

One of my best managers taught me the value in asking questions. It’s something I’ve taken into every job since, and a significant part of what’s made me the manager I am today. It’s something I think about often as I’ve realized it’s so much rarer than it should be in leadership. So, with profound thanks to the strong managers I’ve had over the years, here are some of my best questions.

First though, before we start into asking questions, let’s level about why we’re asking questions in the first place. You ask questions to get context and understand. Because your feedback and coaching can then be more relevant and useful instead of off base because of a misunderstanding. You may learn something new that that will help you and help your team.

You aren’t asking questions to trap someone, or to belittle someone. Not to highlight their error (publicly or privately). That’s not really asking questions, it’s attacking with a presumed answer in mind. Genuinely seek answers with the goal of learning, not blaming.

With this in mind, here are some of the questions I’ve used as a manager that have returned the best answers and feedback:

1) Is there something I could be doing better to support you? (Said at a review, and periodically at 1-1s.)

2) What ideas do you have to solve [X] problem? Could you come back with your top 3-5 ideas we could discuss by [X] date? (I’ve used this for business challenges and performance challenges, both with success. Involving team members in their own solutions helps with both motivation and ownership.)

3) Tell me how you felt about [X]. What went well, what didn’t? (This works with events, programs, campaigns. Let them speak first.)

4) Talk me through what’s going on with [X]. What’s happening there? How can I help you? (This is particularly great when someone is frustrated. Let them tell you what’s going on from their perspective and probe about where breakdowns are. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.)

5) Do you know about [X]? It’s okay if you don’t. We can sit down and go over that together or I can set you up with [someone on team] to give you a primer. Want to be sure you get up to speed. (Many team members won’t proactively admit they don’t know something. Be proactive so it’s okay to do it, with a focus on getting training to address it.)

6) How do you think we could do this better next time? (Make sure it’s clear the goal is to learn and improve. Mistakes are inevitable; just don’t repeat them.)

Of course, questions shouldn’t stop here. It should be part of how you operate all the time. In meetings, when reviewing reports, when discussing growth opportunities. Probing not only helps your team, it helps you lead.

So on that note, how can I better support you as a manager, or in your marketing strategy?

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