The Most Important Question a Manager Can Ask
The Most Important Question: Monday April 18, 2011, Harvard Business Review, By Linda Hill & Kent Lineback
When is the last time you asked the group you manage, and the individuals in it, this simple question:
What can I do to help you be more effective?
What question could be more central to being a good boss? If you want to manage and lead successfully, you’ve got to know what the people doing the work need. So why not ask them the most important question? But the truth is, this question is not asked by bosses nearly enough.
You’ll get a variety of answers, especially in the beginning — including non-answers (“Gee, nothing. Keep doing what you’re doing.”) and requests you can’t do much about — personal problems, company policies you can’t change, complaints about colleagues who make this person’s work life miserable, as well as personal requests you can’t or won’t address (such as “Raise my pay” from someone whose performance is mediocre). Take everything under advisement, if you can’t respond immediately. Promise to take action when you think it’s warranted but resist efforts to “delegate up.”
You will also get answers to the most important question that are implicit or even explicit criticisms of you. Respond to these by explaining yourself, but don’t argue or react defensively. Admit mistakes, if appropriate. At the least, respond with, “Let me think about that. Thanks for telling me.”
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