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What makes one company more successful than another? Better products, services, strategies, or technologies? While all of these contribute to superior performance, all of them can also be copied over time. The one thing that creates sustainable competitive advantage – and therefore ROI, company value and long-term strength – is the people who are the company. And when it comes to people, research has shown, time and again, that employees who are engaged significantly outperform work groups that are not engaged. In the fight for competitive advantage where employees are the differentiator, engaged employees are the ultimate goal.

As leaders we can be tempted to share our wisdom and solve things for people – too often, and too quickly. When we do, we don’t allow others to grow, to develop, to come up with a brilliant idea…so pretty soon, they just don’t try any more. So rather than solve the issue for them, ask questions to get the team engaged in problem solving. The answers become conversations about things that are important or meaningful. Conversations are more likely to turn to action.

Here are some of the questions that can help you get started.

1. What do you think?
Instead of offering our answer first, get them thinking, talking and sharing. Hold back, no matter how tempting to share your solution. And when they start talking, just listen and maybe ask a probing question, like “What else?” No judgment, no qualifying, and no hi-jacking…let them explore with your help.
2. What would you do?
Asking this question encourages leadership thinking and ownership – at all levels of the company. Again, follow up with good probing questions to keep listening.
3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
The key here is the word “real”. When you ask about challenges, you may open the flood gates…help them focus on the real challenge so that they can begin to find their way out.
4. Where are you stuck?
Sometimes we just need a push…we may need to admit that we are stuck so that we open ourselves to ideas and new perspectives. Asking this question gives us permission to admit we are stuck so that we can move forward.
5. How can I help?
When your employee gets stuck and focuses there, they may become frustrated and disengaged… Asking this gives hope that they are not alone, and can be the relief they need to move forward. Go through the other questions first though…there is a reason this one is last.

Learn2 works with leaders to help them develop and implement strategies to engage their teams to get great results. Work with one of our Culture Specialists to help you implement lasting change in your team.

Author: Tammy Sweeney, VP Program Development, Learn2 & CEO, Women in Leadership and Business (WILB) Conference