TL;DR: It is about asking the right specific question. If you don’t pick a specific thing for an event or time frame, you won’t get the answer that will help you lead.
Of all the tools for effective leadership we think we need — a good system for tracking progress, or clear metrics around hiring–– specific questions are our most underrated.
Ask the right question… and you’ll learn that your company’s most valuable employee doesn’t feel challenged by her work and is thinking about leaving.
Ask the wrong question… and you’ll hear the same employee tell you she enjoys the work environment and is confident about executing her work. You only learn she’d been considering leaving when she gives you her two weeks notice.
The greatest example of a “wrong question” is one I found myself asking to others early in my career:
“How’s it going?”
Nine times out of ten, the other person’s response would be…
“It’s fine. Things are going fine.”
What an empty response! But it’s because I asked an empty question. “How’s it going?” could not be a more run-of-the-mill, vague question to ask someone. So I got a run-of-the-mill, vague response.
Ask a general, half-hearted question, and you’ll get a general, half-hearted response. Ask a specific, carefully thought-out question, and you’ll get a specific, carefully thought-out response.
The more specific the question, the more specific the response.