Leadership is a complex concept with many layers, which is why so many books exist on the topic and why organizational-development firms like Caliper offer executive coaching and other specialty consulting services aimed at developing high-potential employees. Becoming a good leader is not like flipping a switch.

Sometimes it feels as if all these messages about leadership are hitting us like a tidal wave, and they can be confusing and overwhelming to process. Fortunately, we don’t have to master leadership all at once, and some skills are simpler than they seem on the surface.

For example, we can all agree that good leaders know how to bring out the best in their team members, and the key skill required is one we already have: The ability to ask questions.

As a leader, you could develop a management style based on your own preferences. If it works for you, why wouldn’t it work for your team? However, everyone’s motivators are different and are just as strong as yours. You will need to understand those motivators if you want people to take action, and the best way you can find out what moves people is, of course, to ask.  Having those conversations with your team members and discovering their drivers will give you the insight needed to elicit top performance.

During your coaching sessions or one-on-one meetings, include these questions:

  1. How do you work best?

What are your team members’ individual preferences when it comes to work environment?  Do they prefer a quiet setting, and are they inclined to do a lot of research and thinking before they make a decision?  Or do they prefer a fast-paced, collaborative experience?

  1. How can I best support you?

Find out what you can do to remove obstacles. If certain employees feel comfortable with frequent check-ins to track progress and discuss project status, then perhaps a sense of structure is important to them.  Others might be more motivated by autonomy. The objective is to learn what resources and adaptations they require to be productive.

You also have to provide development that matters. Coaching is not a one-time event; behavior changes take time and practice. Some ideas to consider:

  • Align your development efforts to the business strategy. If you want people to apply learning, put it into a real business context.  A study by the Corporate Leadership Counsel found that on-the-job training has three times more impact on employee performance than classroom training.
  • If employees have different strengths, developmental opportunities, and motivators, it makes sense that they will need specific and customized coaching.
  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning so participants can practice and reinforce what they learn and have the opportunity to share best practices. In turn, new knowledge will cascade to the rest of the organization.
  • To change how your team members learn, invite perspectives that are different from your own.