The Top 5 Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Staff

The days when your right to lead was automatically granted when you got a senior job are over.

Your job title might give you the authority to manage, but it doesn’t give you the authority to lead. That has to be awarded to you by the people you work with.

Leadership is about disrupting the status quo, something that most people will say they want (because their working lives right now are complex, stressful and not as rewarding as they would like) but that, when it comes to it, is uncomfortable no matter how commited to the outcome you are. An initiative will only be successful if the person leading it has people on side, willing to go through the pain of change.

Change is emotional not logical. And therefore it has to start with emotional connection not logical argument.

So if you want to make a difference, have an impact, or change anything about your company or its influence in the world (and if you don’t what are you planning to lead on?) you’ll need to develop authentic human connections with your colleagues.

These relationships go beyond those that are obliged to listen to you — your own team. The whole organisation is your team now.

And creating those authentic human connections means being curious about the people you work with well before you try to get them curious about you and your ideas.

Here are 5 rarely asked questions that are guaranteed to give you insights in to what makes other people tick and how you can be of service to them.

1. Where would you rather be?

Everyone cares about something. They may be passionately commited to the vision of your business or to serving your customers. But that might not be it. They may be a Scout Leader or a musician or taking an Open University degree. They may love to cook, play with their kids or walk their dog.

Believe it or not, not everyone wakes up every morning and sings “What a wonderful day! I get to go to work today!”.

Trying to get everyone to worship the company they work for and be thankful every day that it provides them with a job is going to fail. But if you need people to emotionally connect with your initiative, you’ve got to understand what they care about. If they didn’t have to come to work, where would they rather be?

You’re not going to use this to manipulate them in to following you. You’re going to use this information to get a picture of what drives them, what matters, why they’re here so that you can play a part in helping them get more of that.

2. What do you leave on the pavement before you walk through the door?

When we hire a person we’re interested in their past experience, their hobbies, their education. We ask cutesy questions about their dreams and ambitions and we decide who has the most to offer the business.

But too often we make it impossible for them to bring their whole self to work. We determine what they are allowed to wear, what hours they will contribute, which meetings they should go to, which projects they must undertake.

We put them in to difficult situations with their colleagues, tolerate conflict and internal competition. We ask them to make a clear distinction between home and work and to not bring home in to work.

And we end up not getting everything we hired.

As a leader you’re obliged to find out how people can bring their whole selves to work and then create space for them to do that. You’re the Obstacle Destroyer.

This might mean losening the rules about taking personal calls at work, not deducting salary when people have to go to the doctor, finding ways to involve family members and friends in the business and ways for the business to serve the local community.

You hired the whole person. Find ways to make sure you get the whole person.

3. Do you trust me?

You may not be able to ask this question directly as the answer, if they don’t trust you, will likely be “Sure we do!”.

However, levels of trust in authority figures are at an all time low. Just by nature of your seniority in the business you aren’t as trusted as someone who is a peer.

People won’t partner, collaborate or advocate for you if they don’t trust you. Of course.

Asking yourself whether people can trust you, whether your words and deeds are consistent, even whether you’d be happy to tell your mum about what you got up to today (or whether you’d be happy if your antics were on the front page of a national newspaper) gives you a clue as to whether you’re worthy of trust.

Do something about that before you try to convince people you’re right about anything.

4. What can I learn from you?

You can’t be on top of everything that goes on in the business. Don’t even try. It isn’t your job.

There are plenty of experts in the business who know their job better than you will ever know their job. This question isn’t about knowing more about what they do than they do.

But everyone in the business sees the world in a unique way. They stand in a different place in the business and look at it from a different angle. Ideas that seemed brilliant viewed from the top of the organisation operate very differently lower down. The priorities of a senior manager may be very different to the priorities of a supervisor. Someone new to the business sees things differently to someone who has been there for decades.

Leaders need to be endlessly curious. They need to expose themselves to perspectives that differ from their own. Not so that they can persuade people to change their mind. But quite the opposite.

Leaders listen in order that their own mind might be changed.

5. What do I do that stops you doing what you do?

Every manager thinks they are being helpful. They certainly don’t intentionally set out to make life difficult for the people they work with.

But in every coaching session I have, clients tell me how their own manager gets in the way of their ability to do the best job they can do.

Most people aren’t having major problems with the team that reports to them. But everyone seems to be having some kind of problem with the person they report to.

That person is you.

Get curious about what people (in your team and beyond) actually need from you, and what they don’t need, in order to do a great job every day.

The result might mean you do way less. You may even fear that you are practically redundant. Don’t let your ego get in the way here. Maybe the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. Maybe your role is surplus to requirements. Be willing to admit it if that’s the case.


Leaders are re-thinkers, question askers, endlessly curious and endless adaptable. The insights they get from this curiousity give them the ideas that will turn in to initiatives that they may lead. If you don’t ask such questions what are you basing your brilliant ideas on? And if you’re not leading anything, you can’t really call yourself a leader.

Get curious. Be open to changing your mind. Then, and only then, can you lead.


Blaire Palmer coaches leaders privately and through their business to achieve professional success without personal sacrifice.

For a free trial session email blaire@thatpeoplething.com or call +44 780 858 1242.

You can listen to Blaire every week on her Punks in Suits Podcast on iTunes and Podomatic.