Successful Leaders: Do You Ask This One Question?

As successful leaders, do you ask this one question?

Lloyd Reeb is a successful leader, runs a highly profitable real estate business and is the global spokesman for the Halftime Institute, an organization founded by multi-billionaire Bob Buford.  I was at a workshop which he facilitated. At one point, he saw me struggling with an assignment.  He came to me, knelt down to my eye level and asked, “How can I help?”

Bob Durfey flew 400+ helicopter rescue missions with many courageous men and women of the US coast guards and was assigned to six Air Stations and five Group Commands.  He and his team were the only ones flying rescue missions during 9/11 when the towers came down.  I once went to Bob wanting to ask him a question. He saw me coming, smiled and asked, “How can I help?”

Johnny Chen was previously the Chairman of Zurich Insurance for its Asian business. I was coaching Johnny and we have since became great friends. On various occasions, as we share our lives, dreams and challenges, often he would ask me, “How can I help?”

How can I help?

The ability to this 4-word question separates successful leaders from those who think they are leaders.


Successful Leaders Trust

It creates trust. Almost instantaneously.

If you have never done this before, try asking the question to your people. When you ask the question, it actually makes you feel vulnerable. You never can anticipate what their response would be. And you would have just put yourself on the line. There is no backing out. You’ve got to go through with it.

When a leader is vulnerable in a positive way, the perception on the outside is courage and openness. And where there is courage and openness, there will be trust between you and your followers.

Think about leaders you have worked with and whom you do not trust and found lacking. Have they asked you that question before?

Successful leaders encourage trial and error, as shown in this Lego Serious Play challenge

Successful Leaders Make It About Their People

Leaders lead. And they lead people. So it has to be about them.

Some leaders can’t help themselves. They love the sound of their own voices. They hear but they do not listen. They talk over you. They feel the need to lead people with their smart answers. Ever had leaders that seemed to be listening to you, but when they respond, it is as if you were never there?

For many followers, great leadership is not always in the smart answers of their leaders. Sure, there are times when we need answers. But for many of us who follow highly successful leaders, great leadership is often found in that one powerful question of “How can I help?”.

It is about them. It is about understanding what they need to do their job, and you as a leader helping them meet those needs. It is about understanding how they are feeling, and you as a leader showing care and compassion.

Successful Leaders Make Themselves Available

The reason why asking that one question makes you vulnerable is because sometimes you may not be able to fulfill what your followers ask for. So if you ask, and you can’t help, doesn’t this impinge on your credibility as a leader?


Asking the question is not about ability.  It is about availability.

A leader who is available is way better than one who is able and unavailable. Think about all the leaders you had that were unavailable to you.

How did that made you feel and how effective were these leaders in their leadership?

For me as a leader, I am found wanting and guilty in being unavailable many times.

My excuse? Busyness.

And yet, that can never be a reason for failing as a leader … if in fact you want to lead.

Making the habit of asking that question makes you look up. When people approach you, you are not buried in your own world, eyes staring at the computer, fingers punching away at the keyboard while your folks are talking to you.

It makes you look up.

“How can I help?” Over time, you can even do it with a smile.

And it is okay if you are unable to help. People do understand when you actually tried. And they know when you really have tried. What they don’t understand is if you come across as a leader that does not give a hoot.

It is not about ability, but availability.


How Can I Help?

I have had the privilege of hanging around successful leaders in my job. I had front row seats to watch them at work and observe what made them successful.

The ones that are highly successful are able to build trust, show compassion, create stability and inspire hope in their people.

And they do it not with smart answers, but mostly with this one great question.


If you like this article and want to find out more about Empowering Leaders, feel free to download the free guide we have prepared for you below.

Kim Pong is the CEO and Founder of StrengthsAsia, Creator of the REFRAME MasterClass and the first 20 Gallup Certified Strengths Coaches in the world.  He is based in Singapore and works with organizations in Asia in creating an engaged workplace culture for leaders, managers and executives to thrive.

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