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Are you afraid to ask this simple but powerful question?
January 05, 2016

One question is all it takes …

2016 is here!

What can you do to motivate and engage more your valued direct reports in this New Year – and thus – increase their performance?

Here is a suggestion …

Ask them a question.

Yes – you read that right.

Ask them one question – a simple question.

However – your question must have the following seven characteristics …


This is a one-on-one conversation – so – set the proper context for your question: The place, the moment, the mood, etc.


Your question must be genuine. You really need to mean it. You must be sincere in your questioning.

If you cannot be honest – you better don’t do it at all because it will backfire.


Your question must be about what your direct report wants.

For example – you could word your question along these lines …

“You are very important to me and to the team. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. I really want you to stay. So – I want to ask you: What will keep you working in this company? And what will make you decide to leave?”


You must listen VERY carefully to the answer – and provide a well thought-out response – meaning …

Acknowledge the request sincerely – even if your direct report asks for something that you find outrageous.


If you cannot give your employee what she wants …

Tell her so and why – provide the rationale in great detail (be thorough and honest).

As you explain to her why you cannot give her what she wants, do it as though both of you are on the same boat. Make her feel that you are on her side – genuinely.

AND if at all possible, tell her what you will do about it – and when you will follow up (with specific dates).


Only IF you cannot give her what she asked for – ask her again: “What else?” up until you can give her some or part of what she wants.


Review your direct reports’ answers once in a while – and see what you’ve done so far for your employees that relates to their requests.

Note 1:

If you are like most managers – you might be terrified to ask this question. You might be afraid that your direct reports will ask you for something you cannot deliver.

You might believe that your employees want more money and/or a promotion. But the reality is that most employees want meaningful work and professional growth.

We are talking about your direct reports here.

These are the people that matter most to you – don’t they?

These are the people that give you the results for which you get paid.

Just by the act of asking them – your direct reports will feel important and respected.

Plus, if you ARE able to give them some or all of what they want – your chances to retaining them increase even more.

Note 2:

Don’t ask this question only once. Ask it as often as appropriate.

The more you take care of your valued employees – the more likely it is that they will stay with you.

Note 3:

If you feel uncomfortable asking this question to your direct reports – to the point where you just won’t do it – it might mean that the communication environment within the team you lead is not very open.

If that is the case – I’ve got to be honest with you my dear reader – you are in trouble.

One of your main tasks as the leader of the team you lead is to create an open communication environment.

In terms of performance – an open communication environment is indispensable.

In terms of performance – a closed communication environment is a barrier, a handicap and a burden to say the least.

Here is a practical tool to help you assess how your direct reports perceive the openness of your communication environment. It will give you an idea about where your team is in terms of communication.

And in order create an even more open communication environment within the team you lead, multi-directional feedback is an excellent tool to help you “move the needle” in the right direction.


Don’t assume you know what your direct reposts want – ask them.

Make it a habit – and you will be surprised about how much more you can fulfill their hopes and dreams.

Make it a habit – and you will be surprised about its effects on motivation, engagement and performance.

Simple – isn’t it?

Not easy – but simple.

Such is the nature of leadership.

Questions? Feedback?
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See you next month!
Joseluis Romero - Publisher
January 5, 2016. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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