Managers Tell, Leaders Ask

Telling is so much easier. It’s faster and more efficient. Asking takes time, and time is money. I’m on a schedule; I need to get things done. I don’t have time to answer questions! In my experience, this is the mindset of many managers. It’s understandable. They get paid to get things done. The key is to know when to tell and when to ask. Certainly, there are times when telling is necessary. I refer you to Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix for a clue:

I’m sure it is obvious that the time to tell is when the situation is URGENT & IMPORTANT.

Deposits Before Withdrawals

Effective leaders earn the right to tell people what to do. Wait a minute, doesn’t the right to tell come along with being the boss? Maybe it did back in the industrial age, but things have changed a little since then. Why is it necessary to earn the right, and how does one do this? Those are excellent questions; I’m glad you asked.

Leaders earn the right to tell by asking during times that are not URGENT & IMPORTANT. When explaining this to our managers, we used the simple “bank analogy.” You must make deposits before you make withdrawals. In other words, your team needs to know you are invested in them as people, and that you care about their best interests. At crunch time, you may be barking orders, telling them what to do. The niceties sometimes become a secondary consideration. This is fine when the individuals on your team know you are invested in them.

During my days working for a large, successful Applebee’s franchisee, we facilitated a class for our newly hired managers called The Fundamentals of *WOW service. It consisted of a series of exercises designed to sharpen the manager’s skills as a leader in creating an environment where WOW service could thrive. While the curriculum evolved over time, there was one exercise that stood out above the rest. It became a permanent fixture because of the impact it was having on our managers.

High Impact Roleplay

It was a role play involving two class participants. One played the role of the manager (Beth), and the other played the role of an employee (Michael). We placed 2 chairs in the middle of the U-shape seating area, making it conducive to a face-to-face conversation. The roleplayers were provided with the following scenario:

Beth has noticed that Michael is not invested in the culture. It is apparent that he’s going through the motions — just working for a paycheck. She has noticed his lackluster attitude, and other employees have mentioned his lack of teamwork. The roleplay is a one-on-one conversation to discuss the employee’s performance. Beth’s outcome is to get Michael to step up his game and become more of a leader in providing WOW service. We ask the participant playing Michael to be ambivalent, act surprised at the feedback provided, and be resistant to making any changes.

We let the first several roleplays go without providing feedback of any kind. When they finished, we thanked the participants and called on the next two. During each roleplay, the manager told the employee about his or her performance and told the employee how he or she could improve. It became evident that these new managers were predisposed to telling people what to do. Invariably the dialogue morphed into a monologue, and the session came to an awkward conclusion. We left it up to the class to critique and make suggestions on how the manager could communicate more effectively. Initially, the input was, all about telling the employee to do this or that. Ultimately they’d realize that asking questions was a better approach. It was fun to observe as the proverbial light bulb illuminated above their heads. Suddenly, the momentum shifted, and the group began brainstorming excellent questions that they could ask the employee to help the manager achieve her outcome.

Learn How to Ask the Right Questions

There is an art to asking questions. Be concise and don’t answer the questions for the employee. Listen carefully to the answers and reflect. Allow the employee to summarize the conclusion.

Examples of Questions for this Scenario:

  • What do you enjoy about your work here at the restaurant?
  • What do you like the most?
  • What do you dislike?
  • Why did you decide to work here?
  • What motivates you?
  • What is your understanding of the WOW service philosophy?
  • Describe your role in support of WOW?

Asking questions is a caring approach. Telling is, well, telling. Does any adult like being told what to do? Effective leaders prompt their team members to think, respond, and come to their own conclusions. They ask questions to learn the best way to motivate, teach and coach an individual to help them improve performance.

Thank you for reading! As always, I’d love to get your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

Have a fabulous day.

About Culturedude

President of The Jeff and Bryce Fan Club, head cheerleader for my wife, Susan, lucky devoted brother of Beth and Barbara, perennial pal of the Bunko Squad, passionate customer service advocate, forever loyal fan of the Yankees, Packers, Buckeyes and Wildcats. favorite pastimes: writing, public speaking, golf, cartooning, reading, playing and blogging!
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1 Response to Managers Tell, Leaders Ask

  1. Flashback to T&K and the best PEOPLE/CULTURE DUDE EVER! I use this entire philosophy with my MITs and new Shift Leaders!!! Gosh I miss working along side the KING of WOW!


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