Leadership is telling people what to do, right?

Actually, no. Good leadership is influence. One of the most strategic ways to influence people is through asking good questions.

In this post, I share 4 questions that I regularly ask in one-on-ones with the people I lead. I believe that at least 1 or 2 of these questions will help you lead people more effectively. 

4 Questions to Ask in One-On-One Meetings


How Can I Help?

The first question I often ask is, “How can I help?” 

I like to ask this question after a staff member describes a challenge or difficult situation they are facing. One of the reasons I ask this question is that people often just want someone to empathetically listen to what they are going through.

Leaders mistakenly believe they are wanting us to solve their issues. By the way, anytime someone describes what a good boss is like, being a good listener is at or near the top of the list.

When I pause to ask, “How can I help?” I provide space for the person I am leading to articulate what they need. There have been so many times where asking this question has saved me from saying things that are unhelpful. In other words, just asking this question will make you appear smarter!

The question, “How can I help?” assumes that the person you are leading is coming to you with questions and problems. In a one-on-one meeting, the person you are leading should provide most of the agenda, not you.

A practical way to work toward this is to use a shared agenda—OneNote, Google docs, or some other way. Having a shared document creates expectation that the person you are leading should be coming to the meeting prepared.


What’s Your Plan For That? 

When the person you are leading begins sharing problems and challenges with you, one of your first impulses will be to fix the problems. That’s not good leadership. Good leadership develops other people’s abilities to solve problems.  

What often happens in leadership relationships is that the employee ends up leading the boss. In other words, the employee brings problems and challenges to their boss and their boss spends most of their time fixing their employee’s problems. The employee is setting the priorities and tasks list of their boss.  That’s backwards. 

A great question to ask as a leader is, “What’s your plan for that?” This question reinforces the reality that it’s the employee’s job to solve their problems and it’s the boss’s job to coach them and support them in that process.

If you’re reading this and realizing that you spend too much time solving your employees’ problems, I have a great little book with a strange title that might be helpful. It’s called, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. Trust me on this one.

What Are Your Priorities Right Now?

One of the most important roles you have as a leader is to provide directional leadership, or vision and goals. There are different ways to go about doing this, but one of the least effective ways is to tell people what their goals are and hold them to those goals. Why? Because there’s no buy-in or ownership from your employee. 

I like to provide directional leadership by asking a simple question, “What are your priorities right now?”  Asking your people to articulate their goals helps them actually think through what they want to achieve. Secondly, it provides you as a leader with the opportunity to speak into those goals. 

By the way, I don’t just let people set their own goals without any input from me. I often ask them to re-order their priorities or even change a goal for something I believe is more important.  

My point is that starting with the question helps generate buy-in and ownership and begins the conversation in a place of partnership rather than top-down dictation. 

What Am I Doing That’s Not Helping?

When it comes to creating an organizational culture of trust and accountability, this last question is extremely important. I want to create a high feedback environment, not only for the people I lead but also for me. My hope is that all of us would be continually growing and improving, and that includes me. 

I need my people to know that they can challenge and correct me. The problem with this desire is that as a leader, especially a senior level leader, I cannot and should not expect people to bravely come to me when I need to be corrected or when I am missing important information. No, I have to invite their input and I have to do it regularly.  

“What am I doing that is not helping?” is a great question to ask because it feels safe. I’m not asking people to point out my character flaws or failures. I’m simply asking for examples of things I’m doing that are not helpful.  

If you want to create an environment where your team feels safe to share feedback, it’s important as a leader to ask this question often, maybe even every week.  Also, if you are a senior leader and you make it a priority to ask this question, you will set a healthy tone for your entire staff.  

Wrap Up

I believe leading with questions is the best way to lead. I’m hopeful that these four questions might help sharpen your leadership and guide you and your church to greater effectiveness.