What is the Most Powerful Leadership Question You Can Ask?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

What is the most powerful leadership question you can ask?  We all want to be effective as a leader.  We want to get the most out of our individual performers, our teams, and our organizations.  Why?  Because leaders need to be able to create the environment that produces the best products, services, and outcomes for our customers – today.  And, then we need to do it again and again, day after day.  So, what is the most powerful leadership question you can ask?  In my experience, it is one of the most simple.  How can I help you?  Yup.  It is all of five words.

So, why do I believe it is the most powerful question?  It has all the elements of leadership packed into a simple question and request.  Each word sends the right message.  It’s a highly efficient question.  The first word is ”how.”  As a leader, we need to know how we are to be most effective.  When we ask this word – how – we set the tone.  We are asking the person to help us identify an action we can take.  Leaders need to act.  This word will tell us how.

The second word is “can.”  This is a word packed with possibilities.  “Can” has two parts.  First, it is specific to us.  Can we do it for them?  Are we able to do it for them? Will they let us do it for them?  We could use the word ”may” also.  However, it loses the two-fold meaning of our ability to help them and will they let us help them.  Pretty powerful word.

Next, I make it specific.  I use the word “I.”  I intentionally do not use the word “we” or “the team” or “the organization.”   I use the word “I” – so that I can actually deliver on it if it is appropriate.  I can now own the opportunity.

“Help” is the next word.  What we will be doing is helping the person.  We give them an opportunity to ask us to use our skills, know-how, and talent so they can be more successful – and happier.  Help is the most important capability of a leader.  Sure, we need to make decisions and move the team forward.  But, our most effective way is to do it by helping our individual performers and our teams accomplish their outcomes.  That’s how we – and our organizations – win.

Finally, I use the word “you.”  We are asking the person specifically for a way we can help them – as an individual.  Again, we are not focused on the team or our business at this moment.  We are asking how we help them as an individual.  In this world of rapidly changing, rapidly expanding, and never ending challenges – and opportunities – we are offering to help the individual.  Pretty powerful message.

How can I help you?  These five simple words can change the way you lead.  I like to start with this question whenever I am with one of my team members, my family, or my friends.  Many times I have to repeat it when the person wants to move on and talk about something else.  I can smile and ask it again.  If I ask it enough, and they get to know me well, they finally will realize that I do really want the answer to those five simple words.  They realize I do want to know how I can help them specifically.  With these five words used in a question and request, I build trust, mutual respect, common ground, and winning outcomes.  It works.  Try it.

So, how can I help you?  I would truly love to know.