Knowledge Center


Article -> Five Questions to Gain Understanding

Date Added: July 2013

Note: This article appeared in the July 3, 2013 issue of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

The book “The First 90 Days” offers more insight than initially believed. Author Michael Watkins presents a foundation for what leaders should do in their first 90 days in a leadership role in a new organization or new role in their current organization.

When re-reviewing this book, I noticed concepts leaders should apply more often than the first 90 days. At a minimum, leaders should ask the following questions annually to everyone on their team and other key stakeholders:

1.    What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing in the next 12 months?

2.    What are the biggest challenges our department is facing in the next 12 months?

3.    What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth in our organization and/or department?

4.    If you were me, what would you prioritize?

5.    Are there any other items I should be aware of? 

Asking these in the first 90 days makes sense; although, leaders should ask questions more often as opportunities continually arise. This helps leaders have a good pulse on the department and organization, and demonstrate a desire to gain feedback from others.

These questions were recommended to a new leader who was amazed at the response. Employees appreciated they were asked for their input; they provided useful information, which was open and honest; and the leader quickly gained information he wouldn’t have otherwise had.

The leader clearly communicated what he would do with the information. It was confidential and nobody would know who said what. He also stated the process was to engage people and create an action plan.

He generated deeper engagement by letting his team know they would be first to see the action plan – even before the leadership team – to ensure support and buy-in. The team’s response was genuine gratitude because they weren’t used to being so directly asked for input.

Surveys or focus groups may also get information; yet this one-on-one process has more value and could be part of an annual strategic planning or employee review process. In times of continuous improvement, it’s vital to continuously ask the right questions and act on the responses.

David Yeghiaian is committed to leading people on a life-changing journey to being great leaders. Reach him at

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