Three critical, powerful questions that transform leadership development and engage employees


It’s old news that we need to transform our leadership away from the old command and control heritage to engaging and empowering employees and building high performance teams. To winning hearts and minds.

The constant and unresolved challenge we face is how to do this.

I’d like to share three simple questions that common sense, extensive experience, research and theory have proven to be immensely powerful in transforming leadership development and building employee engagement.

Question One – What are we / you doing well?

This is a very empowering and positive question that invites employees to reflect on their behaviours and actions that are delivering great business results. It is positive in the sense that it implies some positive outcomes are being achieved and that people are definitely doing some things right and well.

It is also positive and motivational in the sense of recognising and celebrating desired results and behaviours. This is in the form of self-recognition from the employees or teams involved and recognition from the leader asking the question.

This question implicitly reinforces the desired results and behaviours and also motivates their repetition. This occurs because employees will repeat the behaviours that they are rewarded and positively recognised. It engages employees in continuous improvement.

The question often provides the essential positive balance in the frequently negative problem discussions of finding out what is wrong & why it has happened.

Question Two – What could we / you be doing better or differently?

This is again an empowering and future-focused question aimed at enhancing organisation, team and individual performance and developing desired behaviours and action. This reflective question is most appropriate when reviewing performance and when remedial action and different behaviours are required to achieve desired business and personal results.

My observation is that many leaders fall into the unproductive and disempowering ‘why?’ trap of past behaviour, instead of the positive and future-focused questions regarding different actions and behaviour that will deliver desired business and personal results.

This question also implies that continuous improvement is always possible and required. It respectfully communicates that the status quo in terms of behaviour, actions and results are not OK. The almost self-imposed requirement is that we must always strive to be better, quicker and smarter.

A further consequence of this question is that it places the responsibility to identify and implement improvements very strongly with the employees or teams involved. It actively engages them. This is undoubtedly far more powerful than the boss dictating or prescribing solutions.

Question Three – What have we / you learned from this experience?

Ongoing learning is broadly considered a critical leadership capability. As the saying goes ‘If you are not learning faster than change is happening, you’re going backwards”.

This reflective question builds on the fundamental and powerful learning principle of “learning by experience”. The reality is that numerous learning opportunities are unfortunately lost due to inadequate reflection on previous experience.

Work and life is undoubtedly a series of ongoing experiences that offer wonderful learning opportunities, if we have the common sense and discipline to use them as such.

A very important concept in asking this question is that extracts great learning from successful and unsuccessful experiences. There is undoubtedly huge learning from reflecting on positive results and success, instead of the frequent focus on failure.

A huge benefit of this reflective question as a learning principle is that it encourages self-learning and subsequent action.

An invitation

I invite you to use these three simple questions as part of your normal repertoire when discussing issues with individuals or teams. They are also extremely useful in both formal and informal coaching discussions. Try them and experience the results!

Their biggest benefit is turning day-to-day work and life experiences as great learning opportunities.

If you prefer a formal approach, these three questions are an integral part of the well-recognised WIAL Action Learning process. We invite you to contact us to experience Action Learning and these three powerful reflective questions.

I would also welcome your views on the topic.

About the author

Ron McLuckie - Ron is Chairman & Chief Executive of WIAL India which he established in March 2012 and serves on the global board of the World Institute for Action Learning. He is a highly experienced international consultant and Action Learning authority. Ron has held senior executive roles in major organizations, senior lectureships and led a number of international consulting companies. His special interest is in developing skilled leaders who can drive business success and bridge the ‘knowing/doing gap’. His passion is challenging the conventional development approaches that do not work and finding effective ways of developing people and organization capability. He is also a proud granddad of three grandsons.

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