Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Questions to Teach Leadership and Management

Teaching and learning about leadership and management isn’t like teaching or learning math or science. It’s not an exact science. There’s lot of room for interpretation, situations are complex and unique, and context always comes into play. Making sound decisions requires the critical thinking, the ability to deal with ambiguity and paradox, a strong set of values, and a healthy dose of emotional intelligence.

That’s what makes leadership and management development so much fun.

Another thing that’s unique about teaching leadership and management is that it usually involves adult learners. Adults bring a ton of experience, knowledge, and skills to the table. A good teacher/trainer/facilitator knows how to draw that out with good questions.

Here are some of my favorite questions. It's just a start - I stopped at 25, but invite readers to add to the list. All are guaranteed to get a group thinking and talking. Some actually do have clear answers, but most could be answered with the old standby “it depends”. Some are trick questions. Use them for large group discussion, pairs, small groups, or individual journaling and reflection.

1. What is leadership? What’s the difference between leadership and management?
2. Are leaders born or made?
The classic leadership development question. The answer, btw, way is both, but mostly developed. It’s fun to allow groups to get there by themselves.

3. Does a leader need power? How can a leader avoid being corrupted by power?

4. What’s the "best" leadership style?
Trick question, leads to a nice discussion on situational leadership.

5. Think about the best leaders you have ever known. What made them so great? What did they do, or not do?

6. Think about the worst leaders you have ever known. What made them so ineffective? What did they do, or not do?
Questions 5 & 6 build a nice side-by-side list.

7. What are the greatest lessons you've learned as a leader? How did you learn them?

8. What are the your most challenging leadership/management challenges facing you today?

9. What are your core values as a leader?

10. Why do you want to be a leader/manager?
Gets at motivations, and can lead to a discussion to help challenge some myths.

11. What are your expectations for your employees? What do you think they expect from you?

12. What’s your leadership vision? What’s your vision for your group/team/organization?

13. When hiring someone to join your team, what talents or qualities are absolute MUSTS?

14. What’s more important in a hire – attitude of experience/skill?

15. What are your beliefs about recognition? Can you ever provide too much recognition? (kind of a trick question) Have you ever received too much recognition from your manager?

16. Can you motivate employees? If so, how?

Leadership & management Dilemmas:
These realistic scenarios are a fun way to bring leadership and management to life.However, be warned, as they involve values and ethics, it takes a skilled facilitator to keep the discussion civil.

17. Is it ever OK for a manager to be friends with their employees?

18. Two of your employees come to you with a complaint about another one of your employees. You’ve never personally observed the behavior they are complaining about. Do you confront the employee? If so, do you mention the complaints?

19. Your manager congratulates you for a brilliant suggestion and hints at a promotion. Your employee gave you the idea. Do you mention this to the manager? Your manager is upset because the sales forecast you gave has errors. You delegated the forecast to one of your sales reps. Do you tell her?

20. You’re reviewing the results of an employee survey and accidentally discover a way to see individual responses and comments. You feel one of the comments crosses the line and is inappropriate. Do you confront the employee?

22. Your employee is going to the drycleaner on her lunch break to pick up her dry-cleaning. She notices a ticket on your desk for the same drycleaner and offers to pick yours up too. Do you accept the offer?

23. One of your employees gives you an expensive birthday gift – at least 5 times more than any other employee. Do you accept it?

24. You’ve accidentally been given access to your employee’s email accounts. You see your name in the subject line of several emails. Do you peek?

25. You’ve “Googled” an employee that you are considering hiring and found an embarrassing YouTube video. Do you watch it?

What are your favorite questions when it comes to teaching leadership and/or management? Please share in the comments section.

If you have your own blog, feel free to select any questions and post your answers (with a link back to this blog). Leave a comment here with a link back to your post and I’ll publish it in the comment section.


http://www.susannemadsen.co.uk/ said...

Who has inspired you in your career? How can you start inspiring others in a similar way?

Jennifer V. Miller said...


Regarding question #1-- I heard a story the other day that was a huge "aha!" if you train internationally. In some languages, there is no distinction between the words "leader" and "manager". The trainer who told the story said she had to do some fast thinking-- the whole first part of her class was based on that distinction!

Duncan Brodie said...

Really fantastic blog post with some brilliant questions and prompters for discussion.

A few for the list from me:

If you were put in charge of your organisation for a week what would you change and why?

If you worked in the public sector had 30 minutes with the President or Prime Minister to tell them where they should focus efforts on change what would you say?

Dan McCarthy said...

Susanne -
Good one - thanks!

Jennifer -
Thanks for sharing that!
I tend not to spend a lot of time discussing the differences between leadership and management. Both can be roles, usually refer to the same person, both involve important activites and skills, one is no better or more important than the other.
I do, however, like to put to rest the silly "leadership is good, managemnet is bad" arguments.

Duncan -
Thanks, good questions. I could see those questions provoking some rich discussion, around values, priorities, strategic thinking, etc.... and teaches participants to think like a CEO.

davidburkus said...

Dan, this is a great list, but I have to take a little issue with the first two. You're right to include them because that's where many people want to start. However, I think they are likely the least important questions in true leadership development because they can be talked around and around, without creating that bias for action we truly need.

Parag Pandey said...

Does a great no.2, whether born or made, ever know that it's time to stop and not take the jump to no.1 ?

Dan McCarthy said...

David -
Thanks. See my response to Jeniffer regarding #1, I ususally don't spend a lot of thime there either. With #2, you are right, it could turn into an endless debate, but I don't allow that to happen. There is ample evidence to answer the question, and it sets the stage for how leadership skills can be developed.

Dan McCarthy said...

Parag -
Thanks for another question.

Frank said...

What's one of your favorite quotes that inspire you to drive forward harder?

Quotes work well to stir up motivation, especially at those right times.

Dan McCarthy said...

"Unknown" -
Thanks! Although I have to say, I've been asked that in programs before and can never come up with a good one. I should carry a list around just in case. (-:

Beth Armknecht Miller said...

Dan, I love the power of great questions and like to think I have a pocket full of them. Number 9 on your list is one I often start with during a coaching engagement. It gives me an immediate sense of who I am dealing with in the relationship. I generally follow up with the question, share with me a recent decision that is reflected by one of your values. S often leaders can talk a good game when it comes to values, yet don't live by them.


Beth Armknecht Miller

Dan McCarthy said...

Beth -
Thanks!I like your follow-up question.