Leadership development and succession planning is a strategic concern of most organizations. While we know formal leadership development training can pay huge dividends, especially for mid-sized companies (read the research here), organizations often miss a critical component. I consider it to be the other side of the coin: teaching employees how to take ownership of their own careers.
Specifically, one of the most effective ways to help your people grow is teach them what questions to ask to facilitate career growth conversations. I’ve found these five questions to be powerful.
What do I need to know/learn about _______________?
Powerful career questions set boundaries for your conversation. We are talking about “this,” not “that.” Questions must be specific to be powerful. “How am I doing?” doesn’t give a manager enough context to give meaningful performance or career feedback. For example, “What do I need to learn about setting project scope before I can start leading my own team?”
Will you help me understand your perspective on my performance regarding ______________?
Powerful questions probe to understand the perspective of the people who have influence over your career. One of the biggest gaps that will impact an employee’s growth and advancement is the gap of perspectives. Don’t ever assume you know how you’re viewed or experienced by others. Ask the question and really listen to the feedback.
What is most important for me now?
For careers to progress, priorities of the individual must match the strategic priorities of the organization and team. Working hard on something of low value to the company will leave employees feeling unappreciated and burned out. Conversely, employers see employees lacking impact when the employee isn’t driving results that really matter. We cannot set priorities for our careers alone — we must ask those with broader views of the organization what is most important for us now in our career.
How might we do that?
“I want you to work on your leadership skills” or “You need to take more risks.” Sound familiar? When an employee hears feedback like this, it can not contribute to measurable growth. Instead, the response to this type of vague feedback, the kind that lacks clearly identified action, should be more questions. This helps to uncover the real feedback. In particular, I like this question because it automatically triggers collaboration and can unleash creative solutions. The goal is actionable feedback with clearly understood outcomes.
What do you mean by ____________?
Have you ever left a career conversation without clarity? Most likely, your manager believes she has given crystal clear instruction, but that is very often not the employee’s experience. Get better at this clarifying question: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY [repeat the feedback back to them]? This is where the intent of the feedback surfaces and how you can get to actionable expectations.
Of course, these five questions alone aren’t enough.
Managers need specific leadership success skills to be developed, too. Things like:
- ability to clearly set expectations
- ownership to hold employees accountable
- skills to engage in healthy conflict
- demonstrating empathy
- giving all three forms of feedback (appreciation, coaching and evaluation)
- creating psychological safety
- leading inclusively
- understanding strategic priorities
Just to name a few.
In the end, when the organization equips the manager in these areas and equips the employee to take an active part in their own development, then you can have true leadership development success.