One question great leaders ask to avoid being ambushed by their teams

in life •  last year

Here's the scenario: you’re on your way out of for lunch, juggling the tasks of the afternoon in your mind, while mentally recalling the highlights of the morning meeting. And boy! You have only 20 minutes for lunch before the next conference call.

Then you saw someone heading towards you, obviously looking like she has something she needs your help with. They can be your subordinates, team members or employees. From experience, you know you’re about to be ambushed with a “do you have a minute” question that will turn into a 20-minute coaching and managing session.

There goes lunch time. :)

Familiar with the situation?

One trick I learned from great leaders, and something I always recommend to my clients, is not to ask “how can I help you?” in situations like that. That will only open up a floodgate of background info, backstory and overwhelming details. It will take them 7 minutes and 49 seconds just to give you even a hint of the problem!

It's partly human nature. You see, in a state of anxiety and panic, your subordinates probably have run the issue over and over through their mind, exaggerating the details, and being stuck in a “loop”. Most of the time, they have the solutions, but they are just drowned out by emotions to notice them.

So, there is one good question I would recommend you asking instead that can help you to:

  1. Cut short the conversation
  2. Get them to go straight to the point
  3. So you can solve the problem for them

And that is:

“What do you need from me?”

Super simple, but trust me, it's highly effective. This one short question will immediately put them in a right frame of mind to shift from problem-focused to solutions-focused thinking. This will also mean they can spare you all the details which are probably unnecessary, and only focus on the immediate steps they need to take to solve the problem.

Of course, in the Asian context, the question may seem to be in an aggressive tone, so asking with a smile or a gentle pat on the back (if appropriate) will calm them down and improve the situation.

Asking the right question is a crucial part of leading effective teams during dynamic times. As you progress up the career ladder, the better you are at asking question, the better leader you will become.

My Master once told me something that I constantly reminded myself:

"The quality of questions you ask will determine the quality of life you live."

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Nice.. exactly what to u say how can I help you...mehn u are in for a big talk lol

One question great leaders ask to avoid being ambushed by their teams..............i totally agree with this

Nice post. Next time when I need to ambush someone, the question coming out from his/her mouth is this, what do you need from me? can be a very good hint to be quick.

Knowing that the person is rushing and might be jittery...
I can ask him/her directly...I need you to do something for me..pleeeease😁😁😁.
I only need less than 1 minute of your time.
Let's walk and talk..


Good pointers there! Although the 1 minute can in reality become 12...

Another great article @maverickfoo!

Totally fell in love with what your master had to say about the quality of questions you ask. From my experience, I can say that many of us will ask about things they do not want in their lives, instead of seeking out to find real solutions to their problems!

Thanks for sharing and keep it up :)


Good point there. Sometimes when we do a values elicitation exercise with "some" people, where they are supposed to list down values that are important to them, they will spend a good 15 minutes listing down things they don't want in their lives, haha.

Just what I needed to save more time for myself this 2018. Thank you bro.


Time is always against us, isn't it? Have a good weekend, brother!

"Hey do you have a minute?"


Sounds like you still have a day job, I gave them up a few years back after putting 16 hours a day in to running Land Rover parts quality engineering department, stay sane, and get out before it kills you, they replace us in a day anyway :-)


Day jobs are for millenials! :P


or morons :-)

So true really really insightful

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Very informative!

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I find it fascinating how certain things work better for some cultural backgrounds than in others.

The business setting has a lot of etiquette and rules, and as I get more and more experience in international business I get to know that this is an area in where differences are plenty.

With the internet and globalization, it is getting better, but there was a time that was full of great stories of how things would get f**** up really fast for stupid reasons... so I liked it that you mentioned that in Asian cultures this question can be too aggressive.


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Can this wisdom apply too asking my self what I can do for it?

Surely works for me, it is really effective. "So, what do you want from me". I use that all the time. Or in my local language, i say, 'okay, how do you want me to help you?'.

Very good tips on becoming better managers of our most precious resource: time. Thank you for sharing. Resteemed.

thanks for this, i learned something that would save time for me and my boss.. upon reading i realize to directly ask my superior the question first then the details later if only she would ask..

!Greetings from Venezuela these communication strategies and being leader are balanced when we learn to listen carefully and have tolerance because we human beings are very dynamic in behaviors. I congratulate you for sharing those strategies that help us provide personal and business solutions

“What do you need from me?”

thanks, your post is inspiring...