Fairmount InSights

Examine two different approaches a nonprofit executive director might use when speaking with an employee about a new challenge.

Approach #1:

“We’re facing an unexpected budget crunch. Our ability to recruit volunteers for the next few months will be significantly lowered. I’m going to need you to work harder and more creatively to make up the difference.”

Approach #2:

“We’re facing an unexpected budget crunch. Can you help lead and set a great example for the rest of the team?”

The second approach is much stronger.

Nonprofit executives can do more through asking questions.

The Power of Asking (The Right Questions) As A Leader

The first approach tells the staff member what to do. The second approach identifies the  predicament and invites the staff member as part of the solution.

The nonprofit executive who employs the second approach gives the employee an opportunity to become invested in the challenge and the steps that will be needed to fix it. The executive’s question treats the employee as an equal. Asking questions subtly sets an expectation for behavior better than a statement that tells people what you want them them to value.

If the executive summons the employee and tells them how badly the organization is in trouble for the next few months, and how everyone will have to work longer, harder, and faster – the executive just paints a scenario where doom is the inevitable conclusion. This message not only demotivates staff but also implies that the team isn’t strong or trusted enough to solve the issue.

If the executive can calmly meet with an employee and ask, “Can you set a great example for the team and help lead?” the conversation empowers and motivates while communicating important messages. We can overcome this. I respect your ideas and ability to solve this problem. We’re going to do this together. I view you a good communicator who is capable of helping manage this situation.

These are empowering messages embedded with one question.


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