Productive Leaders

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

Mary’s Weekly Articles and Valuable Tools

Subscribe below and get Dr. Mary Kelly’s
weekly newsletter in your inbox.


work from home

How Leaders Turn “How are you?” Into a Real Conversation That Matters To Employees

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

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




You might get, “I’m good. How are you?”
In most instances, this is a pointless exchange of wasted words. Instead, we could use it 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 nine, 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 two, when we might say, “Oh wow. Tell me what is going on.”

Listen Better

As a leader, we must lead individuals, not teams, or demographics, or positions, or regions. We lead people, and people are individuals. We must respond to people as individuals. 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 properly based on what our people need from us.

We must lead according to what our people’s needs are at the time.

And if we do not listen, for both what is said and unsaid, we miss opportunities to lead. People need to know they are important, and that means their leaders need to show respect and appreciation. That starts by hearing their concerns and ideas.

Every great leader knows that to keep top talent, you need great leadership.

Lead Authentically

You, an authentic leader, is what people want. Be true to that, and do not let negativity get in the way. You may feel like your true self is one that does not come with baggage, 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. That means admitting mistakes, apologizing when you are wrong, and giving 100% every day.

Get Closer to People at Work

Everyone has had some struggle over the past few years. No one knows precisely what you are 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 situations, and you can ask for advice or perspective. Either way, relationships and friendships are enhanced when you are 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 will have the opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation and strengthen your relationships with others.


  1. Jim Huffman

    Hello Mary. Good stuff. Hope all is well with you – at least an 8 or 9! Thank you for sharing.

    • Mary Kelly

      Great to hear from you, Jim. I’m doing well… Thank you!!

  2. Kirk Benson

    Thanks Mary, I am going to try this tomorrow at work, when I make my rounds.

    • Mary Kelly

      Love that you are taking that specific action, Kirk. It gives people the idea that you really are listening for an answer. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Cathy Hall

    Mary I’m going to try this. I do try to question the “okay” response with a follow-up, but I like this better. Thanks!

    • Mary Kelly

      Glad you will be trying this, Cathy. Thank you!

  4. Gina McCormick

    I’m going to save this. I think it fits right into the discussions we are having in my Leadership class. As always, you nailed it. Thank you.

    • Mary Kelly

      Great, Gina! I appreciate your feedback!!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *