Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

This is a line from my all-time favorite commercial. In the classic 1970 TV commercial, a variety of animals are asked this thought provoking question.

Each animal has a different response, but no one seems to know the answer. They send the inquisitive boy to wise Mr. Owl. When the boy asks Mr. Owl how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, Mr. Owl’s response is “that’s a good question!”

“Let’s find out!”

I love that commercial because it starts with a question.  However, “Let’s find out” can sometimes be a scary adventure.


On the other end of that question may be some truth that we aren’t ready to hear. As leaders, we may not ask questions that spark conversation because we aren’t sure we want to know the answer.

A conversation can be a difference maker though. It provides an opportunity to come to understanding.

One of the most beneficial traits a leader can have is the ability to understand others. Asking questions to identify strengths and areas of interest allows us to engage our associates and support them as the unique individuals they are. I call these engagement conversations.

Engagement conversations is a fancy name for open and honest dialogue that helps us genuinely understand what is most important to our individual associates.

One of the chief reasons associates disengage from their work or leave a company is because they don’t trust their leaders. Asking questions and getting to know what is important to your team is a key foundation to building trust.

Sometimes questions may initially be met with awkward silence. But more often than not, questions lead to captivating dialogue that fosters greater connection. Remember, the goal is engagement, and dialogue creates engagement.

Here’s the challenge. We have to be silent while waiting for the answers to our questions. Our task is to ignite the conversation and listen more than we speak. Lou Holtz says it best:

I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions. 

Listen for understanding. Listen to build trust. Probe. Be present and genuine.

Most people just want to be heard. Listening is where we learn the most – asking questions creates relationships.

Here are some questions to prompt the engagement conversation:

*What is most energizing about your work?
*Are we fully using your talents?
*What keeps you working here?
*What can I do to best support you?

As you ask the questions, stay focused and actively listen to the responses. Asking and listening can perhaps be uncomfortable. But, words have power.

Associates will recognize that you focused, listened, and most of all cared about their responses. They’ll begin to see you as the animals saw wise Mr. Owl, one who knows how to find out.


Wendy Berenson

Wendy Berenson

Wendy brings over 20 years of expertise in training and development, facilitation, and Human Resources to the InnerWill team and the clients we serve. She has a passion for helping leaders develop a culture of engaging employee experiences and has a unique knack for identifying the strengths of others and helping them reach their highest potential.

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