The one question every boss should ask

March 21, 2011: 10:47 AM ET

It may sound simple, but knowing how to ask a solid question is a discipline worth cultivating. And there's one question some managers say is essential to doing their jobs well.

By Vickie Elmer, contributor

When Nancy Hickey was promoted to chief administrative officer at Steelcase, she began to oversee areas of the office furniture corporation that she knew little about; among them, IT, real estate and facilities. So she started asking questions, plenty of them, to the department heads who reported to her.

Now that Hickey, a former human resources executive, knows more about the departments she oversees, her questions have changed, and she can push her team more effectively, and better understand how they're faring. She's among a growing cadre of senior managers who use smart questions to engage, innovate and solve problems.

A consummate inquirer, Hickey believes that asking questions instills an intellectual curiosity and encourages her staff to share their expertise. "They know the right things, maybe better than I do," says Hickey, whether they are working to design new Steelcase chairs or upgrading its website. More

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