Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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how are you

How Authentic Leaders Turn “How are you?” Into a Real Conversation

“How are you?” has shifted from a point of conversation to a fairly meaningless reflex. If you think about how many times you ask that question every day, you may realize it’s no longer relevant. “How are you?” could open up a real conversation. It could allow for meaningful discussion. It could give leaders the opportunity to talk about what is actually going on.

Walk around your teams and ask people, “How are you doing?”  You will get one of three basic answers.


You might get a, “I’m good. How are you?”

In most instances, this is a pointless exchange of wasted words. Instead, we could use it to assess how people are really doing. 

Ask the question slightly differently. “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being really awful, and 10 being fantastic, where do you think you are today with everything that is going on?”

This turns the question into something you can use.  When someone responds as a 9, then we can ask follow-on questions. “Great! What is going on?” That response is going to be different if they say they are a 2, when we might say, “Oh wow. Tell me what is going on.”

As a leader, we have to lead individuals, not teams or demographics or positions.  We lead people, and people are individuals.  We have to respond to people as individuals.  We have to lead according to what their needs are at different times.

Many people are experiencing challenges, and those challenges can lead to negative emotional and physical responses.  Knowing what our people are really thinking helps us, as leaders, respond based on what they need from us.

You, as an authentic leader, is what people want. Be true to that, and don’t let negativity get in the way. You may feel like your true self is one that doesn’t come with baggage – that would be great, but no one is like that. We all come with good and bad, and in order to honor the authentic you, you can be open and honest.

Everyone feels emotions on different levels. No one knows precisely what you’re going through, but people can relate to some degree. When you open up to others, you get closer to them. You can bond over shared emotions, or you can ask them for advice on your situation. Either way, relationships and friendships are enhanced when you’re able to open up more.

So the next time someone says, “How are you?” think twice about your answer. Your reflex may be to say “good,” “great,” or “fine,” but maybe if you tell them how you really are (exhausted, over-the-moon, nervous, excited, etc.) you’ll have the opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation and get closer to others.


  1. Vicky

    LOL. Recently someone from our I.T. Departments asked me that and I said “Frustrated” as we are in the process of implementing a new software program that (in my opinion as a user) is 3 steps behind what we currently have and even farther behind the software program we had before it. People who design software programs should look at what is being currently used so they understand our processes and terminology – especially when it comes to working with customers at the counter.

    • Mary Kelly

      Great example of being honest. Thank you for sharing, Vicky.

  2. Mary Jo Wiseman

    Great article. You offer up some good points as well as alternatives to the “How are You?” question. Seems to me that this practice could also work at home in our personal lives.

    • Mary Kelly

      Yes, absolutely! Thank you for pointing that out, Mary Jo. 🙂


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