Being a Thinking Partner for Your Employees

One of the most valuable gifts we can give our employees is self-directed learning. With the best of intentions, we give direction, offer advice, and provide answers, often to employees’ detriment. Conversely, we’ve all seen our employees have “aha” moments, where connections are made and ideas are formed. In these moments, they are literally changing their wiring by forming new neural pathways. They typically feel energized and motivated, and their learning sticks with them.

While not necessary for casual conversations, facilitating employees’ thinking can be extremely valuable in complex conversations like assessing, strategizing, problem solving, and decision making. As David Rock suggests in Quiet Leadership, we are doing our jobs as managers if we act as “thinking partners” for our employees. When we do this, we help them process information, see relationships between concepts, and identify what’s most important. The key to being a thinking partner is to ask relevant questions from a variety of angles. Some examples are:

Thinking Questions

–  How long have you been thinking about this issue?

–  What are different approaches you can take when looking at this?

History Questions

–  When did this issue first show up?

–  How has it played out over time?

Appreciative Questions

–  What did this look like before it became problematic?

–  When this was working well, what was occurring?

Outcome Questions

–  What end result would you like to see?

–  What will that get you?

Spectrum Questions

–  What are potential risks? Benefits?

–  What are you not paying attention to?

Learning Questions

–  What do you recognize that you didn’t before?

–  How can you apply this going forward?

Asking good questions empowers employees and helps them become critical thinkers.