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The Secret Power of Asking Your Team What They Want (#117)

The Confident Leader

When facilitating a leadership offsite, one person asked me, “Robin, I have a team member who’s failing to meet their goals and every attempt to support them is met with excuses. I am boxing at shadows trying to solve their issues. What do I do?” My response hit them like a ton of bricks.

Know what you want. Know how to ask for it.
— The Team @ Robin Pou, Inc.

This Week’s Edition

Day-to-day leaders are looking to solve as many problems as possible to keep the trains on the track and running on time. In their haste, leaders unwittingly make assumptions about how they can be helpful. Pausing momentarily to ask your team what they want (or need) in a given situation is a good practice to assure alignment and effective problem solving.

Clarify Your Thinking

The leader at the offsite was clearly at her wits’ end with her team member. She shared that this person was crucial to the organization’s future success and exiting them from the team was not an option

I looked at her and simply said, “ask them.” 

“What? What do you mean, ‘ask them?’” She said with a puzzled expression.

“If you are guessing at solutions to solve their challenges and that’s not working… stop it. Stop guessing. Just ask them. Ask them what they want.”

“That’s it?  That’s all I have to do?”

“Yep… that’s it or at least it’s a start to move the conversation in a different direction.”

“Sounds too easy. Are you sure it’ll work?”

I went on to share my discovery from the past two decades of leadership, both as a business owner and as a leadership coach.

  • Leaders want to fix their team member’s problem

  • Their fix-it mode is so strong, leaders routinely just dive in

  • Leaders often blow past a key element – discovering what the other person wants

  • Consequently, a leader’s solutions fall on deaf ears as they talk past each other failing to resolve anything

  • Both parties leave frustrated sometimes not knowing why

If your team member is not able to articulate or define what they want, how in the world can you help them achieve a solution to their challenge?

Old Thinking: My job is to fix their problem. Once they stop talking, I will swoop in with my solution. All will be made right. 

New Thinking: While fixing the problem for them today may be expedient, I want to lead them well so they can fix it for themselves in the future. That may start with me asking some good questions to get them thinking.

Thoughts Lead to Actions

As a leader, there is a simple fix to resisting the urge to jump in and fix-it:

Step 1: Proactively listen. 

Step 2: Ask them: What do you want? 

  • Soften the question for the tone and tenor of the moment

  • Alternate option: how can I be helpful to you in this situation?

Step 3: Restate what they said they wanted. 

  • Say it back to them to test for your understanding

  • Say it back to them to help them hear what they are asking

Leaders who adopt this approach will get a few different responses from their team members:

  • Hmm… I’m not sure what I want.

  • Hmm… I’m not sure how you can help.

  • Hmm… I think I just needed to vent.

Leaders who fail to adopt this approach routinely leave their team members thinking:

  • I don’t think they really heard me.

  • My leader’s “advice” isn’t very effective.

  • That’s not at all what I needed. They don’t get me.

Before you dive in to start fixing things, it might be useful to see if your fix-it skills are even needed in this situation. If they are, you will want to make sure they are applied to what your team member needs based on what they want.

Save some leadership mental cycles and certain leadership headaches by pausing for a second and inquiring about what they want

Boost Your Performance

The leader from the offsite found her leadership revolutionized by the mere concept of asking her team what they wanted. The burden of responsibility was immediately shifted from her to her team member as she realized, “I can’t solve a challenge for someone else when they don’t even know what they want.” 

All day long you are spending countless leadership mental cycles – spare yourself a few by pausing and inquiring about what they want.  

What’s Your Opinion?

Who are you going to listen to this week by asking what they want instead of dropping into fix-it mode? Share it with me at

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 

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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.

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