Leaders Are Insatiably Curious
As Brandon Bruce shared with us in episodes 78 and 79, great leaders are insatiably curious. They are curious about themselves, their organization, their constituents, their customers, and the world. They ask hard questions and are comfortable being uncomfortable because they know it will stretch them and make them better.
I often believe that the best question is the one that makes you really uncomfortable. For instance, you have recently seen many high profile leaders tolerating unacceptable / inappropriate behavior from peers and subordinates. So why won’t that leader address the uncomfortable questions and face the issue bringing whatever corrective action or discipline is necessary? My personal opinion is first, and foremost, their overwhelming need to win. Removing that team member might reduce the ability to win. Maybe it’s the leader’s need to always be right. If the leader takes action it might confirm others suspicion that he/she made a mistake. Sometimes it’s just because of the leader’s need to be liked.
These men and women set themselves up to fail because they were unwilling to ask or respond to difficult questions that challenge. Questions that challenge their team, questions that challenge themselves and their motives. Their response (or lack thereof), is sadly absent when it’s needed most. How else will you learn if you don’t challenge yourself?
In the last episode, I mentioned that Josh Linkner had identified some tremendous benefits to asking questions. He said that asking questions fosters ownership, autonomy, and feelings of success. Well in an article that Josh wrote which was published by Forbes magazine, he offers 13 questions great leaders ask their team. The link to the article can be found below and I picked a few of my favorites to share with you:
What is everyone thinking, but nobody has the courage to say?
As a leader, if you fear hesitancy on the part of your direct reports to question/challenge you or your latest decision(s), you should be VERY afraid. Remember in the previous episode I identified the need to build trust. People have to know that you are sincere in wanting to hear what they are thinking. Make it safe for them to say what they are thinking.
What are the three things that are holding us back right now?
This is a great question that can expose correctable items preventing growth/progress. Maybe your process is dictating your method and it’s keeping you from concluding sales because it’s so clunky. Address it, don’t ignore it! And do not buy into the excuses that nothing can be done about it.
Are we focusing on preserving the problem to which we are a solution, or are we innovating our way to success?
This one touches a nerve, eh?! Have you ever speculated that specific problems are never addressed because they perpetuate the ongoing sale of the solution? Pharmaceuticals anyone?
What do you need from me in order to help you reach your full potential?
Possibly the most powerful question a leader can ask a team member. What can I do for you?
The Five Whys
Another method for diving deep to get answers that the team needs is the “Five Whys” method. I first came across this method in Root Cause Analysis training. So often, the immediate answers to “Why” are symptoms and not causes. You have to be persistent to get deep enough to expose root causes. In practice, you take your biggest concern. Ask “why.” Then repeat asking “why” each time you get to an answer. Repeat this four times.
Sometimes five whys isn’t enough. You might have to stick with the process and continue iterating beyond this. It’s worth it though. There is little that you will find more satisfying than exposing and addressing a cause rather than a symptom.
Master Of Questions
John Maxwell is probably the king of asking questions in my book. For 40 years now, John has been meeting with leaders monthly and coming to that meeting with questions that make it a valuable use of his time, and the time of his guest. I’ve only been following John for a little more than 20 years now and if you asked me to name one thing that has stuck in my memory, it’s listening to him on a cassette tape back in the late 90s describe this process.
He says that a well-formed and focused question will help to:
- stimulate creativity
- trigger new ideas
- lead to deeper convictions
- improve your quality of life
Evaluate Your Experiences
If you want to evaluate your experiences, and expand your thinking, consider some of these questions that John recommends you ask yourself:
- What’s my biggest asset? Biggest liability?
- What’s my highest high? Lowest low?
- What’s my best habit? Worst habit?
- What, or who, in my life gets most of my time? Who should be getting most of my time?
- Who do I need to forgive?
- What people do I value in my life? Do they know I value them?
Finally, from Jay Mitchell’s post on vanderbloemen.com (link below), he posted four questions that great leaders ask themselves and I wanted to share two that I thought were particularly insightful:
Who do I need to listen to?
Leaders who refuse to listen to anyone other than those they agree with, or only to trusted voices from the past, will find themselves stuck. What about voices of those who can help us think differently about how we can innovate in our work? As leaders age with their organizations, the less willing they are to listen to outside voices or consider new ideas. Great leaders are always asking about to whom they should be listening in order to stay sharp.
Ask yourself: Do I need to get out of the office listen to our staff more? Is there a conference I need to attend? A course I need to take? A podcast I need to subscribe to?
What am I afraid of?
Why will a leader listen to new ideas but when it comes to implementing changes, they stop short? Jay says one reason is that they are afraid. Great leaders want to know why they do the things they do and why they don’t take action even when they know they should. Generally this comes down to a root fear that they have often hidden or disguised. Great leaders will name their fears in order to face them and overcome them.
Ask yourself: What am I afraid of? Is it a fear of failure? Of the unknown? Of feeling uncomfortable or incompetent?
If you haven’t been challenged, then I wasted your time; however, I suspect you are leaving this episode with a thought or two that you won’t easily be able to escape. I want you to ask yourself these questions. If you will do that, and answer them honestly, your progression and growth will be life-changing.
What are some questions that you’ve asked in the past to help you as a leader? I’d love to hear them, so leave a comment.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Josh Linkner’s article in Forbes The 13 Questions Great Leaders Ask Their Teams
Jay Mitchell’s article 4 Questions Great Leaders Ask Themselves
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