I wonder how many times a day the question “How Are You?” (HAY) is asked? I guess it’s in the millions across the globe. There is a version of the question in every language.
Leaders get asked the HAY question often—perhaps more often than those with less power—simply because it’s a safe way to start a conversation with “The Boss.”
If you think about it, being asked that question frequently can be a pain or at the very least, a necessary but slightly annoying interruption of superficial quality. True, some people do want to know the answer. However, for many, it’s a mechanical greeting used as a way of acknowledgment but no commitment for engagement.
There are multiple ways to answer the question, of course. Norm from Cheers always had creative ways of answering the question:
Imagine if you said one of Norm’s great lines next time you answered the HAY query.
Since few of us can pull off a “Normism,” most people say, “I’m fine. And how are you?”, or variations of it. Wise leaders who asks the question will listen carefully to the answer they receive in return and build on it as a way of maintaining relationships with the team.
This article is focused on what a leader does/can do when asked the HAY question.
Is there a wrong answer to the HAY question for a leader? Yes. To answer with the truth, assuming you are nauseous, depressed, angry or suicidal, is obviously not leaderly. Your job as a leader is to focus on others, not garner sympathy or other unproductive feelings toward yourself.
However, a major opportunity for the leader’s response to HAY exists, one often missed. It’s not only an opportunity, but also an invitation to seize the moment and use your answer as a way to promote the mission. Your response could engage your followers in your vision while signaling how much you value them.
Consider these HAY responses and the different impact on the receiver:
Team Member: Hi, Judy. How is everything?
Leader: Everything is going well, Sam—and by the way, I wanted to thank you again for the great job you did on the presentation to the Board. I’m still getting compliments…
Team Member: Hi, Boss. How are you?
Leader: I couldn’t be better and let me tell you why…
Team Member: How’s it going today?
Leader: Great, thank you for asking. You know, I’m glad you stopped me because I wanted to ask you about…
The effective leader first grabs every opportunity to value employees. Leaders also create an exciting vision and work relentlessly to describe it, model it, explain it, reframe it and repeat it so that it is in the bones of every employee in the organization. One great opportunity to do this is to weave it into your response to “How are you?”
As the leader, you hear that question often. How are you going to maximize the opportunity to share and embed your vision in your response?