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Why Great Bosses Don't Tell You What To Do

Written by Rene Boer on September 15, 2016

EOS Leadership Management How to Be a Great Boss

Female boss listening to two employees If you’re like most bosses, you do most of the talking. Frankly, this one-way-street behavior needs to change. Your job is to ensure that the dialogue is 80/20, where your direct report is doing 80% of the talking and you’re talking only 20% of the time. The only way to make that happen is to ask questions instead of making statements.

The Value of Asking Questions

Ask “why, who, what, where, and when” questions. The typical boss, when presented with a problem, makes statements such as, “You should have done this …” or “Don’t do that…” You’ll be amazed what happens when an issue is brought to you, and instead of making a “you should have” statement, you ask the person a question along the lines of: “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time? Or, “What would you do?”

Get them to answer the question. They’ll become more independent. The more they talk, the more they will convince themselves they can handle their own issues. You’ll have fewer issues to deal with and you’ll get more things done.

For instance, imagine yourself as a boss dealing with someone who is repeatedly late for work. It’s negatively affecting your entire department because other people have to fill in for him by taking incoming calls. When you meet with him, begin the dialogue by asking him what is causing him to be late. He tells you that there are mornings when he, not his spouse, is responsible for getting their kids off to school. You ask him what he would be able to do to get his kids off early enough for him to get to work on time. By asking him what he would do, you are in effect asking him to commit to his own plan for being on time.

Built-in Accountability

Think about it. Who owns the issue and the solution? He does. He’s making a decision to be more responsible. And, he’s holding himself accountable to live up to his word. Asking him to solve his problem is more effective than repeatedly telling him to be on time.

One great boss who mastered this communication method had it validated when her direct report said out of the blue, “I just want to say thank you for never dictating or telling me what to do.”

Are you asking them or telling them? Ask first. Give it a try and let us know how it’s working for you.

Next Steps


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