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ATD Blog

The One Skill You Have to Master as a Leader

Friday, August 18, 2023

It’s never been harder to lead a team, with five generations now in the workforce—some of whom work remotely and others globally, some of whom are engaged and others not so much.

Every great manager we study uses this one skill: They get to know the individual stories of each employee who works for them.

It may sound simple, but there’s wisdom in the practice.

Here’s one example: We recently met John Pray, the CEO of Operation Homefront, a charity that provides emergency assistance for US military troops, the families they leave behind, and wounded servicemen when they return home. This former brigadier general builds great teams wherever he goes. With the majority of his 120 employees spread all over the country, he has still taken the time to get to know something personal about every person on his team.

Pray told us recently, “Everyone has a story. What are they proud of? What are their aspirations? When we know their stories, we better understand how to engage and motivate each person.”


Finding a person’s story doesn’t have to take an ordinate amount of time. Usually, these discussions take only a few minutes. Pray asks people about their families and hobbies, what they like to do in their spare time, if anything is new in their lives, where they’ve worked in the past, and what they learned there. He also asks, “Where do you want to be in five years?” “What gets you excited when you come to work every day?” and “What does our mission of serving young military families mean to you and why is it so important?”

Pray said, “As a non-profit, we can’t pay people what they’d be worth in the open market, so we need to do everything we can to make the work experience engaging and motivating. If I know their stories, I can do that!”


In addition to Pray’s great questions, here are another dozen questions to help you get to know the people you work with. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a few ideas to get you started:

1. How do you recharge?
2. Who inspires you and why?
3. What’s the latest book you read?
4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on right now?
5. What secret talent do you have?
6. What are your strengths?
7. What would make work more interesting for you?
8. What challenges are you facing in getting your work done?
9. If you were to tell one person “thanks” for helping you become the person you are today, who would that be and what did they do?
10. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
11. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
12. If you were to build a company of your own, what would your foundational values be?

Whether you run a team or are part of a team, the more you know about the people around you the better your chances of making a difference in the work you do and with the customers you serve.

We invite you to take on this challenge this month. Ask a few of these questions to someone on your team and see how it changes your working relationship positively.

About the Author

For more than 20 years, Paul Yoachum has helped thousands of individuals, teams, and organizations (from large multi-national corporations to emerging start-ups) reach their goals and drive improvement. As a cofounder and managing partner of FindMojo, Paul is a co-creator of The Motivators Assessment, the world’s #1 tool for assessing workplace motivation and co-author of the bestselling book Find Your Mojo. A teacher at heart, Paul is the master trainer and lead instructional designer behind world-class programs such as Find Your Mojo, What Motivates Me, All In, Leading with Gratitude, and Core Motivators for Sales Performance. These programs and tools have been used by 75% of the Fortune 500.

With a unique blend of wit and wisdom, Paul approaches each engagement with a personable style that relates equally well to senior leaders, middle management, and the front line. He is a frequent speaker at training and leadership events where he speaks on a variety of organizational management and leadership topics. Whether coaching sales leaders, teaching a leadership course, delivering a speech, or consulting on a culture transformation project, Paul’s passion is building high-performance teams where people are engaged, enabled, and energized.

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