From professors to managers to mentors, I've had the opportunity to be inspired by some great leaders so far in my somewhat short professional life.

When thinking about what they have in common, it's easy for me to come up with some shared characteristics. They were all supportive, encouraging, charismatic, and motivated. They all had unique skills and valuable experiences under their belts.

But, personality traits aside, I identified one more common thread that ties all of my most memorable leaders together: the questions that they would ask me. Here are three questions to ask your own employees if you want to be seen as a better, stronger leader.

1. How can I help?

In any sort of leadership or management role, your direct reports exist to help you -- they follow your directions and obey your guidance in order to continue pushing your department toward its objectives.

But, the best leaders go beyond just thinking about what their employees can do for them and push themselves to ask how they can turn around and help their employees.

Whether it's offering assistance with something small (such as a task or project that person appears to be struggling with) or something bigger (for example, seeing how you can step in and help that person achieve major career goals or milestones), the most memorable and impactful leaders recognize the fact that their working relationships need to be two-way streets.

They know that their direct reports shouldn't just do all of their bidding without anything in return, and they're eager to see how they can repay the favor.

2. What do you think?

In most cases, when you're the manager, you have far more experience in a certain area than the people who work under you. That means you often get to provide direction and give the final say on specific matters.

However, that doesn't mean that you should never ask your employees for their own thoughts, opinions, and suggestions. Encouraging your direct reports to chime in with their two cents makes them feel heard, valued, and recognized.

Even if you don't end up taking the route that's suggested by an employee, it still never hurts to ask them to speak up and provide input. All of the best leaders do.

3. What can I do better?

You give your employees plenty of feedback to help them improve. But, the most impactful leaders recognize the importance of flipping that script and asking for constructive criticism about how they can be better themselves.

They appreciate the insights of their team and use their feedback to change, grow, and ultimately better lead their employees.

The most effective leaders don't refute, deny, or become defensive in the face of criticism. In fact, they thrive on it.

Everybody wants to be a better leader. Fortunately, getting started can be as simple as remembering to ask these three questions of your direct reports. Put them to work, and you're sure to take steps in the right direction.