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A Question for Leaders

By MG John Gronski (USA, Ret.)

I have a question for leaders.

When you are out circulating around the organization you lead, what questions do you ask?

Most leaders have learned that one of the keys to being a good communicator is to listen. Listening helps us to empower those we lead by giving them a voice. We show them respect in that we send them a message that their opinion matters. Encouraging people to speak up and really hearing what people have to say is also a great way to prevent conflict from occurring in an organization.

A leader’s time is precious. When a leader circulates throughout their organization, they must have a plan to make the best use of the time. Sure, it is a good opportunity for leaders to communicate a consistent message, but it is also a great opportunity for the leader to hear from the people they lead.

So back to the question. When you are out circulating around the organization you lead, what questions do you ask?

I recommend three questions for three different situations a leader may be in.

Taking On a New Position

When a leader first takes over an organization I think the model that Michael Abrashoff, a former Navy Captain, used when he took over command of the Navy destroyer, USS Benfold, is a good approach to take. He took the time to meet with over 300 of his sailors on the ship. He asked three questions.

What do you like about working here?

What don’t you like about working here?

If you were in charge, what would you change?

When a leader sincerely listens to the answers to these questions, he or she will learn a great deal. If a leader does decide to change something based on the feedback, the person who recommended the change should be given credit, and the recommendation should be made known to everyone else in the organization. A good practice, after considering all the suggestions for change that are offered, is to get back to the people whose recommendations will not be implemented and explain why. This is an excellent way to grow trust and at the same time, it is a way to develop future leaders.

Muddy Boots

Once a leader is settled into an organization and is no longer considered a “new” leader, keeping one’s boots muddy by continuing to circulate is important. As a leader continues to get around, the questions should evolve.

LTG Ben Hodges (USA, Retired) was a mentor of mine when I served with him when he commanded US Army Europe. I paid close attention to the questions he asked when he would visit the leaders of U.S. Army units throughout Europe. I think any leader in any industry would be wise to use the questions he would ask.

What is your risk of not completing the mission you have?

What is the risk to the members of your organization from either a safety concern or a retention concern?

What are you doing to professionally develop yourself and the people you lead?

Moving On

When a leader is about to move on to a different position, they should take the opportunity to ask questions modeled after the U.S. Army’s After-Action Review (AAR).

The leader should consider asking:

What leadership qualities should I sustain and continue with?

What leadership approaches should I consider improving or changing?

What lessons, good or bad, have you learned from me?

Good leaders communicate well, and great leaders communicate predominantly by asking questions.


About John Gronski

Major General John L. Gronski (U.S. Army Retired) is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove LLC, a leadership consulting firm. John is the author of two books, “Iron-Sharpened Leadership” and “The Ride of Our Lives” and he is an international and Fortune 500 speaker. Learn more about John Gronski at https://johngronski.com/

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