Leadership Challenges: How do I get my people to tell me what they need?

Leadership Challenges: How do I get my people to tell me what they need?

One of the most common questions I get asked from the leaders and business owners I work with, is “how do I get my people to open up to me and tell me what they need? If only I knew what they needed” they say, “then I could give it to them”.

It’s a question born from a desire to help, or to achieve and make a difference and so many of those I work with know that when you can get an ‘issue’ or ‘solutions’ on the table effectively – you can achieve greatness. But still, at first anyway, it eludes them. So, what stops it from happening?

Reasons for a lack of openness:

I have a very special relationship with my clients and their teams. I am not their boss and am in a unique place of being seen as a welcome support (and welcome challenging) mechanism (most of the time anyway). However, I have been there and still have to deal with some scepticism – am I there to highlight what people are doing wrong, fix things, report back or tell a leader how they should do their job. From this experience, I have seen that there are three main reasons for a lack of openness from your people:

  1. Yours and your people’s perception of your role as the ‘boss’ – I am their boss they won’t speak to me; they’re my boss, I couldn’t tell them “I don’t know” or “I can’t do” is  the no 1 reason and potentially the quickest (not necessarily easiest) to address.
  2. Being open yourself to questions and not knowing all the answers – if you aren’t why should they be?
  3. Facilitating openness constructively when you achieve it – so your people feel it was ‘worth’ sharing, was acknowledged and truly considered.

So, how do you overcome these reasons for a lack of openness?

The answer to the question “how do I create openness?” lies in approaches which may take a leap of faith, practice and coaching to put in place, but I promise you, they do work. Go try them – you’ll see.

The first approach to creating and maintaining openness is to…

Stop using or thinking of yourself as “the boss”. If you consider yourself to be the boss – all the connotations of that word will run through everything you do. Ask yourself – how would I like my team to think of me? For me, it’s as a “collaborator”, valuing and bringing to the fore the wisdom and skills of your team, and sharing your own hopes aspirations and ‘tender spots’. Without your team you could not function and they need to trust you implicitly – openness on your part begins to build this and does not begin with the word boss.

Something that I do with most of the people I work with is to ask them, before asking them to open up about themselves – what would you like to know about me in order to trust and feel comfortable to work with me? I share that I am happy to be asked about anything work or personal and whilst at first it seems a little weird for them (I really do mean anything), it makes the world of difference. I have for example been asked, why do you of what you do? Do you enjoy it? Have you got children? Do you really believe that you can make a difference? Why are you really here? I always answer openly and honestly. If I can’t be honest with them, how can I expect them to be honest with me?

I recently facilitated a Managing Director to do this in a team meeting, and whilst uncomfortable at first in the main for the team, they soon warmed up, asked if the MD had ever stolen anything and following a very open and honest answer, the connection built as a result was dramatic.

If you like the idea, but are not sure you could step over the ‘precipice’, get in touch, I can help you do this, or help you to adapt the approach for you.

The second approach to creating and maintaining openness is to…

Praise your people when they question you and challenge your thinking – this says it’s OK to have a different perspective and that you value it. Many of those I work with love the challenge I provide and the way I get them to pause and think about what they do. Many leaders as I’m sure you do crave challenge, but getting it isn’t always that easy.

Recently when working with a business owner on work life balance, he said that he wished his PA would challenge him and make sure he didn’t hold onto work she could do for him. So, in the moment, I asked how he’d feel if I went and fetched her, facilitated a conversation between them both and then coached her to do just as he wished. He said ok, and what followed was an hour of pure joy, seeing his PA empowered to challenge him and he smiling from ear to ear as the weight visibly lifted from his shoulders.

If you crave challenge, I can provide this for you, or I can help you to get it. If on the other hand, you don’t feel comfortable to accept or constructively react and work with the challenges you receive or crave, let me know – I’m here to help.

Facilitating openness in a meeting: A starter for 10…

If you’d like a starter for 10, for inviting and working through your team’s questions or challenges whilst maintaining openness, here’s seven quick steps:

  • Ask a question that you’d like your teams views on – and if you do already, find opportunities to ask even more often.
  • Listen to the views, and I mean really listen. Ask questions, make sure you understand and again really don’t assume you understand, summarise what you’ve heard and ask your team if you’ve understood them ‘correctly’ – providing the opportunity for them to re-clarify their points. It might not even be a ‘challenge’ – it might be seeking clarity.
  • Acknowledge the great stuff they’ve shared and the quality of the challenge.
  • Probe, for example – how do they think their ideas could be taken forward and by when? Gain commitment to that positive action and agree a review date.
  • Answer, providing clarity on what you believe as a an organisation you can’t take forward and why, painting a picture of how or why the suggestions won’t fit into your organisational purpose and strategy. Even better if you can ask them – how do you see this fitting into our x, y or z. What impact do you feel that would have for our organisation? Our customers, our workforce? Followed by, what would need to change in order for that to work in our organisation- you may be surprised by the greatness you witness or the piece of a puzzle that could generate other solutions.
  • Confirm what can be agreed, offer the opportunity for both/all of you to reflect and arrange another get together as appropriate.
  • Thank your team and highlight how much you’ve valued their opinions, hopes fears and aspirations and how useful you’ve found their sharing – praise the behaviours you wish to be repeated.
  • Seek confirmation from your people of whether it has been a useful interaction for them, by asking how has that been for you? What have you liked about today’s meeting? Would you be happy if we continued in that vein? What tweaks would you welcome? And acknowledge and agree which bits you will take forward and who will be responsible for making that happen.

The third and most important approach to creating and maintaining openness is to…

Be open about your purpose for bringing together a meeting, what you want your people to gain from it, and what you hope to gain from it, at the start. If you want to find out what’s ‘bugging’ your team so that you can help them fix it, tell them – it’s the lack of clarity that most often closes them down – i.e.. “hidden agendas”.

My questions for you…

  • On a scale of 0 – 10 (where 10 is high) how would you rate the level of openness you are receiving from your team and organisation?
  • On a scale of 0 – 10 (where 10 is high) how would you rate the level of openness you are providing to your team and organisation?
  • How would your team and organisation rate the level of openness you are providing them with?
  • How could you use the three approaches I have outlined above to enhance openness in your organisation?
  • What support would you benefit from, to give you every confidence you would be successful?

I’m here to help…Listening, Collaborating, Advising and Speaking…

If you or your or any member of your organisation find it a challenge to create openness or to facilitate and make use of that openness constructively in meetings, gaining consensus, give me a call today on 07736942382 or e-mail me at stefan@yourleadershipcounsel.co.uk I can help you and more importantly I would love to…

Thank you for reading


Example Testimonial – Here’s just one example of the outcomes working with me through coaching and collaboration can achieve:

“Stefan is a very skilled and talented coach who is able to use a broad range of techniques to get to the heart of any issue. He has a very reassuring, confident and diplomatic manner that instantly builds trust and respect whilst still remaining impartial. Having worked with him recently I felt fully engaged and energised throughout, and he helped me to rationalise some complex business issues using multiple perspectives. A powerful and inspirational motivator- don’t hesitate to work with him!” Rav Bagri – National Sales Manager – Commercial – Nationwide Building Society


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