The One Question Every Leader Should Ask

Understanding why someone did something or said something is vital for a leader.

Before settling on an opinion of someone or what someone did or did not do, you should ask, “Why?”

Why are you late today?

Why did you speak to her that way?

Why did you hit your sister?

Why did you not tell the truth?

Why are you so angry?

Why did you alter that document?

Why did you not follow through as you said you would?

Why did you leave out the most important facts related to this incident?

Why did you decide on option number two?

Sometimes, there is a good reason why people do what they do. As leaders, we need to know why so we create the right impression in our minds of people. We also need to understand how to best react to a situation, which might include coaching, counseling, and discipline, not to mention the impression we might have of someone if we don’t know the whole story.

Why were you late? The answer could be,” Because I left too late, and I can’t seem to get my act together.”

Or, the answer could be:

“My son was sick, and I had to take him to the emergency room.”

The point is to ask “Why” before you decide to take action or create a lasting impression about someone. Make sure you know the truth, and you will make better leadership decisions and be considered a great leader.

1 Comment
  1. re: “. . . we need to know why so that we create the right impression in our minds of people . . . and also so that we know how best to react to a situation which might include coaching, counseling, and discipline. . . .”

    I like your Asking Why recommendation for leaders. I see that most of your reasons lead to positve approaches to the situation — coaching and counseling. I think we need to be very careful with the ‘discipline’ aspect. Certainly there are occassions where discipline is appropriate. My concern lies with the possibility that a manager asks Why? with a consistent penalizing approach. If we ask Why? to find out who is somehow guilty, regularly, then trust is lost. Few people want to work in a situation where a manager is looking to penalize rather than coach & support.


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