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Q: Laura, the COO of a physical rehab center, has noticed that the number of clients served and overall client satisfaction have been slipping. She called in her leadership team to learn why this is happening. None of them had a consistent answer, so she asked them to do some investigating and report back in two weeks. But the team leaders weren’t sure what to look for to get to the bottom of poor performance.

Larry Face, founder and president, Next Level Achievement, answers.

Fifty years ago, a leader would tell someone to do something and they would do it; they didn’t ask questions. Then baby boomers came along, and when the leader gave a direction we would ask why. We didn’t necessarily expect an answer, but we asked “why” anyway. Generation X asks why and expects an answer, and Generation Y doesn’t ask—they just expect an answer. The skills that need to be used in leadership today are significantly different from 50 years ago: Now you have to get inside [your employees’] heads and figure out what moves them into action.

The first thing I would do as a leader in Laura’s situation is hand out an anonymous employee survey, because if the leaders ask questions but haven’t developed a trusting relationship with the employees, or have lost the trusting relationship, they won’t get the answers they need. The questions can be simple: (1) From the perspective of making this a great place for you to work, what is working? (2) What’s not working? and (3) What would you do or change to make this a fantastic place to work?

Those three simple questions might get to the heart of why [the group isn’t] operating on the level they were before. In cases like Laura’s, the employer [needs to] understand they have to treat their team as a group of individuals with unique skill sets, and have a clear understanding of how each member is going to interact to maximize the productivity of the team. So if I’m going to make sure my group as individuals are motivated and inspired, I need to ask three more questions: (1) When you think about the role you play in this organization, what do you like doing? (2) What do you dislike doing? and (3) What are you good at that fuels your energy while you’re doing it?

[The last question] drives to the heart of productivity: Just because an employee does a task well does not mean it challenges and excites them. For example, if you put me in project management I’ll do a good job, but it steals every ounce of energy and my overall performance will go downhill. [When a member joins your team,] learn what role they generally like to fill: asking all the questions, coming up with the big idea, starting the project or finishing the project.

Once you gain a better understanding of where someone should be sitting on a team and engage their skill set, their productivity is going to increase and the team is going to play better as well.

There is a saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That applies directly to the relationship between a leader and their employees. If the employees feel you care, they become more willing to help. I once held a leadership program for a client in a rehabilitation center and a member of the leadership team talked about how her CEO noticed that she loved photography, so asked her to take pictures at [company] celebrations and parties. The employee did not make more money, but [the task] engaged her passion within her role and made her feel better about her job.

One of the biggest challenges I see is that leaders don’t ask questions; it’s not the norm. They just make assumptions about what’s best for the employees. But that doesn’t work: Ask questions; build a relationship to be able to get answers to the questions.

And walk your talk. If you’re going to tell people how they should do their job or set the standard for behavior, actions, performance and objective, you have to be willing to demonstrate that. Sixty-seventy percent of people who leave their jobs have left because they lack a relationship with their immediate supervisor, so it’s really about building a trusting, foundational relationship.

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