When to Ask vs. When to Tell as a Leader


Inclusive leaders know when to ask vs. tell. One of the many conundrums of leadership is knowing when to tell versus knowing when to ask an employee to come up with their own idea and/or solution. Leaders are often drug into problem solving situations or idea generation brainstorms and expected to have all the answers. It can feel exhausting as a leader to feel like you must have all the answers all the time. It’s just not possible. 

Inclusive leaders lead with influence over power. They meet their people where they are at, they ask coach their teams, and they help people come up with their own solutions to their own problems.


Meet people where they are at

Situational Leadership tackles the ask versus tell challenge beautifully with its 2×2 matrix based on the employee’s development level. The tool boils down to two things – the skill vs. will. By asking yourself if an employee is learning vs. doing the task (the skill), then if the employee is motivated vs. un-motivated (the will), you can more easily decipher if the employee needs to be told what to do directly or asked for their own ideas and guided to resolution.

Employees that are learning (making lots of mistakes) need to be told, and employees that are doing (making fewer mistakes), need to be asked. When we do not meet an employee where they are at developmentally on a task, we risk disengaging them due to micro-management and macro-management.

Once we know that an employee can do, and is demonstrating consistent success at a task, we can successfully coach them.


Coach the team

The GROW model highlights four key areas for effective coaching, providing guidance to a team member without having to give them the answers. In it, G stands for Goal, R for Reality, O for Options, and W for Will. It’s easy to create questions in your back pocket for them to self-discover their own goal, leading them to explore their current situation (reality) and what’s not happening now, brainstorm options for them to bridge the reality to their ideal goal state, then firm commitment on the plan to cement their will.


GROW relies on three key principles:

  • Powerful Questions. Open-ended questions that start with “what” or “how” are key to getting people to think for themselves. Consider the simple question – “what do you want?” – so powerful.
  • Active Listening. Shut up and listen. Pause for seven seconds after the question and you will be surprised what you hear. Resist the urge to jump in with answers, park your assumptions, and be curious to learn from the team. Playback what you heard them say using their exact words verbatim.  They will open up and tell you more.
  • Self-Discovery. Promote this relentlessly. People create barriers in their minds that they do not know what to do or are so overwhelmed that they see no path to success. They accept the current reality believing it is the best they can do. Do not let them. Challenge them to come up with their own solutions, encouraging them with, “I know your idea is better than mine,” and “what if you did know?”


Inclusive leaders help their teams succeed by getting out of the way, motivating them through sincere curiosity, and set them up for success long-term.



Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing many career “pivot points” of her own, she started her own speaking business with the goal of helping leaders be more inclusive.

Promoting diversity, inclusion, and allyship in the workplace, Julie helps organizations foster more inclusive environments. She is a frequent keynote speaker, podcast host, and executive coach. She holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, is a Certified Master Coach, and is a certified unconscious bias trainer.

Her books include Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan, ONE: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality and Lead Like an Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America with Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion, her children’s book Little Allies, and Allyship in Action: 10 Strategies for Living Inclusively.

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