Do you recall those sibling fights when your only defense to a stern parent was: “He (or she) hit me first”?

As we all know by now, that’s not a very good defense – certainly not good enough to get us off the hook with a conscientious parent.

But that flimsy excuse does have one virtue: it acknowledges that all it takes for a cycle of interaction between two people to begin and move in a certain direction is for one person to take the initiative.

We’ve seen bosses wait impatiently to see a glimmer of enterprise in an employee. And we’ve seen employees wait for a word of encouragement from their boss. Too often the only movement to be discerned comes from the hands on a clock.

Fact is, for best results bosses should take the initiative – they should lead. And one way for a leader to get a virtuous cycle of productivity started is to ask a key question.

John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth, says that question is: How can I help you do your job better?

“That is one of the most potent questions in management for a senior executive to put to an employee,” he says. “When you hire people who are motivated to stretch themselves to reach goals for themselves and their teams, providing support for them stokes the fire of their engines.”

Asking them how you can help them do their job better puts you squarely in the roles of Servant, Steward and Shepherd. And your questions help create a culture of reciprocity where the focus is on contributing – people helping one another.

When is the last time you asked an employee or a volunteer in your organization that question? When will you do it the next time?

See Baldoni’s short, less than 2-minute video talking about the impact of his question.