It’s not every day you get to sit down with someone in a senior leadership position. C-suite executives fill their days with high-level strategic planning and decision-making. Many don’t spend time chatting with individual employees unless there is a performance review or specific meeting scheduled for that purpose.
When the opportunity does arise, some employees are frozen like a deer in headlights, unsure of how to make the most of their time with these high-profile individuals. You want to make an impression but not come off as overeager or out of touch.
While a script isn’t the answer, having a framework of thoughtful questions can make for a meaningful conversation. This article will dig into the importance of talking with senior leadership, how to go about asking them critical questions, and some examples to start your brainstorming.
What Is the Importance of Asking Senior Leaders Questions?
Talking with senior leaders—regardless of your position—can carry a great deal of importance for several reasons:
Interacting with senior leaders grants you access to their knowledge and experience. It is an opportunity to gain beneficial insights you don’t usually capture in company memos or team meetings.
Senior leaders often have a broad overview of the company’s core business strategy, market position, and industry trends. By asking strategic questions, you can learn about:
- The company’s direction
- Leadership’s priorities
- The rationale behind strategic decisions
This information can help you align your work and objectives with company goals, enabling you to have a greater impact in your role.
Moreover, you can gain valuable insights into how they think and what they value, which can be incredibly beneficial resources for your professional development. Understanding their perspectives on career growth, risk-taking, and innovation can guide your career decisions and aspirations.
Engaging with senior leaders can help create and strengthen relationships that may be pivotal for your career progression. Asking meaningful questions and showing genuine interest can leave a lasting positive impression.
Building a rapport with a senior leader can also turn them into mentors or sponsors who advocate for you within the organization. Moreover, these relationships can be a source of support and advice as you face various challenges and opportunities in your career.
Advance your career
Speaking with senior leaders can be a strategic approach to advance your career. Through effective dialogue, you can:
- Showcase your value: Discussing your work in the context of the company’s big-picture goals demonstrates your value and commitment to senior leaders.
- Increase visibility: By engaging with the C-suite, you become more than just a name on a report. This can lead to increased recognition and consideration for future growth opportunities.
- Express ambitions: This is your chance to express your career ambitions and interest in taking on more responsibilities. It opens a door for leaders to consider you for growth or development opportunities.
- Receive guidance: Asking for advice or feedback can provide you with practical steps to reach the next level in your career.
- Build a reputation: Consistently asking insightful questions and contributing to the conversation can establish you as a thoughtful and engaged employee.
Overall, this kind of interaction can directly contribute to your personal brand within the company, which is a key component in career advancement.
Asking powerful questions does more than satiate personal curiosity—it serves as a catalyst for developing a company culture that prizes learning. This may be crucial for long-term success, as the skill sets required for jobs have changed by around 25% since 2015, a number that is expected to double by 2027. Engaging with senior management signals to everyone within the organization that inquiry is an expected and respected practice.
These interactions can inspire others to follow suit, creating a ripple effect where asking tough questions becomes the norm rather than the exception. This collective curiosity can lead to uncovering new opportunities, optimizing workflows, and, ultimately, driving innovation.
Identify gaps or areas of potential improvement
Speaking with senior leaders can unearth gaps in processes, strategies, or understanding that may not be evident from a ground-level perspective. You can help pinpoint areas where the company might not be performing optimally through your questions. For example, you could ask why certain measures aren’t being taken to improve remote teams’ productivity, such as scheduling regular one-on-ones.
Compelling questions that constructively challenge existing practices can lead to breakthrough thinking and solutions. Bringing fresh eyes to old problems or highlighting inconsistencies creates opportunities for continuous improvement within the organization.
What Types of Questions Can You Ask Senior Leaders?
When posing questions to senior leaders, it’s important to frame them in a way that shows you’re invested in the conversation and genuinely interested in understanding their perspectives. Here are some types of questions to consider:
These key questions explore the organization’s overarching strategic goals and plans. They revolve around understanding the company’s strategic direction, discerning what the senior leadership team sees as priorities, and gaining insight into how tough decisions are made at the highest level.
This type of questioning seeks to uncover more about the person behind the title. They examine the leader’s personal experiences and motivations, fostering a connection beyond professional roles.
Understanding the human element of leaders can make them more relatable and help break down barriers, inspiring others to engage more fully within the organization.
Career and development questions
These questions delve into the professional journey of the leader, aiming to extract wisdom from their experiences and milestones. They focus on the paths they have taken, the lessons learned along the way, and the practices they believe have been crucial to their growth.
This category targets the leader’s experiences and perspectives regarding leading teams, driving change, and managing a successful organization.
By inquiring about their leadership style, key strengths, philosophies, triumphs, and challenges, you learn how to adapt or adopt qualities that align with your career aspirations or leadership development.
How To Ask Senior Leaders Effective Questions
Approaching senior leaders with questions can be a bit daunting, but knowing how to pose those questions effectively can lead to a meaningful exchange that benefits you both. Follow these tips to ensure you ask questions the right way:
- Do your homework: Before engaging a senior leader with questions, take the time to research their background, understand the company’s current strategy, and stay up to date with industry trends.
- Ask open-ended questions: To encourage a rich dialogue, ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions invite elaboration and provide deeper insights.
- Listen actively: When a senior leader responds, practice active listening. This means being fully present, showing that you value their input through verbal and non-verbal cues, and asking additional questions based on their answers to show engagement and understanding.
Remember, this is a chance for you to stand out and build a foundation for the next stage of your career. Don’t leave it to chance!
8 Examples of Questions To Ask Senior Leaders
A little bit of personalization goes a long way, but here are eight creative questions to ask senior leaders to get you started:
1. What are our biggest challenges right now?
This question demonstrates your concern for the company’s current state and hints at your desire to contribute to overcoming these challenges.
2. What is our long-term vision for the company?
Asking about long-term strategy and vision shows you’re thinking strategically and interested in how your role aligns with the company’s future business goals.
3. What was your most significant professional accomplishment to date?
This personal question can provide inspiration and insight into what the business leader values most in their career, offering a more profound understanding of their motivations.
4. What are our core values?
Learning about the organization’s core values directly from leadership helps in aligning your work and behavior with the company’s culture and expectations. It signals you want to feel like part of the team and help move the business toward its long-term goals.
5. What do you consider one of the most difficult obstacles you’ve faced as a leader?
Responses to this question can offer lessons in resilience and problem-solving from a leadership perspective.
6. What are the key opportunities for our organization?
This forward-looking question can inform you of areas where you might focus your efforts or skills to be more involved in the organization’s growth.
7. Are there any skills or experiences that have been instrumental in your success?
This question allows you to tap into the leader’s own career development journey to identify which abilities and experiences they credit for their success. Understanding this can guide your own focus on particular leadership skills or motivate you to seek out specific experiences to emulate a similar career path and become a more effective leader.
8. How do you relax at the end of a long day?
A lighter, more personal question like this can help humanize you and the leader, facilitating a connection beyond work matters. It may also give insight into work-life balance from a senior leader’s perspective.
Engaging with senior leaders through thoughtful questions can be insightful and transformative for your career. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your strategic thinking, show your commitment to growth, and establish meaningful connections within your organization.
The essential questions discussed here are just a starting point for a deeper dialogue that can enhance the leadership path ahead of you. It’s important to reflect these insights in every facet of your professional presence, starting with your resume.
A resume isn’t just a list of job titles and skills—it's a personal narrative that tells the story of your career. When was the last time you updated it to reflect the strategic insights and ambitions you’ve curated through conversations with leadership?
Use our free resume generator to crystalize your experiences and skills into a sharp, impactful representation of your professional journey.