Episode 99 In conversation with Marian Byrne
March 24, 2021
Episode 100 Celebrating the 100th episode
March 31, 2021

Questions great people managers ask

Questions great people managers ask

Great people managers know that they only achieve with and through their teams. As a result, they don’t see their staff as mere functionaries tasked with following orders. They view their teams as sets of diverse individuals, each with their own unique blend of motivations and skills. Therefore, they make the effort to get to know their colleagues as people.

Effective people managers develop their teams by supporting and challenging them to utilise their skills and to think for themselves. In other words, they coach their team members to grow, not just in their roles, but as people. They also lead by example, role-modelling the qualities, attitudes and behaviours they wish to nurture in others.

In my conversations with people managers of varying degrees of competency, I’ve found that the really effective people managers answer these questions in the affirmative.


Questions great people managers ask

1. Do I care enough about my staff as people (not just as tenants of roles) to invest my time in their development?

2. Do I have the motivation, skills, demeanour and resilience to develop my team on an on-going basis?

3. Am I aware of my own strengths and weaknesses as a manager, and am I honest and open enough to seek assistance, input and feedback?

4. Do I have regular one-2-one interactions with my staff above and beyond the required performance appraisals or task-specific meetings?

5. Am I flexible enough to change approach when my preferred style of leadership is not working?


These questions lay the foundation for effective people management. Because we all have our blind spots, a sixth question helps to ground us in reality.


6. What tangible evidence am I using to support my answers to the above five questions?


There’s another category of questions that I’ve noticed great people managers ask their teams. It’s a category of questions that sets the tone for the working relationship. For example –


7. How can I support you in your role?


The manager’s focus is on enabling their teams to perform at their best. This mindset, which represents an inversion of the classic organisational hierarchy, will prompt other questions such as –

  • How would you like me to manage you?
  • What do you need from me?
  • How do you see our relationship working?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • What’s your expectation as to how we can work well together?

Whilst most people may not be able to give a precise answer to these questions, they will remember the fact that they were asked them. It establishes a platform for an open, two-way, collaborative working relationship.

Some managers are instinctive coaches, others work consciously on enhancing their skills. Coaching as a style of leadership is effective in developing the trust, respect and capability of staff which in turn leads to higher morale, greater productivity and better results.

Questions great people managers ask

Great people managers use coaching techniques to encourage their people to stretch towards their potential. They believe in their team before the team fully believes in themselves. When you coach someone, you are focused on the person, not just on the tasks you want them to complete. Your approach is proactive and leans towards long-term sustainable development, not a short-term, reactive quick fix.

It’s easy to forget that just as customers voluntarily decide to do business with you, staff volunteer their dedication, motivation and enthusiasm. Employees might be required to spend a specific number of hours a day at work, but they volunteer who they are at work.

Of course, managers have to focus on getting the job done and short-term task delivery, and sometimes instructions have to be given. However, being a manager is also about creating an environment where staff can do their jobs, do their best and maybe even flourish. Great people managers never forget that.

If you enjoyed this post then do read my article titled ‘What makes a good manager’ and I would also suggest you listen to an excellent interview I did on my podcast with Dr. Aidan Harney on the psychology of leaders who are effective at working in highly complex environments.

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