Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

WHY YOU NEED TO ASK QUESTIONS

The reason that effective leaders ask questions, writes bestselling leadership author and speaker John Maxwell in his new book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, is that questions are the most effective means of communicating with people. They also allow leaders to unlock doors that would normally be closed, build better ideas, gain different perspectives, and break free of the “mental laziness” of comfortable, unchallenged mindsets — just to name a few of their advantages. As Maxwell explains, “If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions.”

Questions Leaders Need to Ask Themselves and Their Teams

In the first part of Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Maxwell focuses on what questions leaders should ask themselves and what questions they should ask of the team. Leaders, Maxwell explains, must ask themselves the tough questions if they want to be responsible and proactive leaders. These questions cover areas such as, among others, personal growth (“Am I investing in myself?”); motivation (“Am I genuinely interested in others?”); stability (“Am I grounded as a leader?”) and effectiveness (“Am I staying in my strength zone?”). Each question is an opportunity for Maxwell to explore key leadership issues. “Am I grounded as a leader?” for example, leads to a discussion of three important qualities that all leaders need to exhibit: humility, authenticity and calling.

In addition to questioning themselves, leaders must also question their team members. Good questions will show team members that they are valued and will inspire others to “dream more, think more, learn more, do more and become more,” Maxwell writes. There are numerous questions that need to be asked if leaders want an open, effective team. These questions range from “How can I serve you?” “What do I need to communicate?” and “What am I missing?” to “Did we exceed expectations?” “Did we add value?” and “How do we make the most of this opportunity?”

“I Told The Ding-A-Lings What To Do”

In the second section of the book, Maxwell presents the questions that leaders have asked him over the years. These myriad questions are expertly grouped into seven key leadership-related issues, captured as questions of course. These issues include “What must I do to lead myself successfully?” “How can I successfully navigate leadership transitions?” and “How can I develop leaders?” Each issue is then broken down into 10 more specific questions, which allows Maxwell to develop an insightful and concise tutorial on the issue.

One chapter, for example, is entitled “How do I resolve conflict and lead challenging people?” This is a recurring and often frustrating problem for many leaders. Maxwell breaks the issue down into specific questions related to resolving conflict and leading challenging people. For example, “How do you raise the bar when people have gotten used to settling for mediocrity?” “How do you motivate an unmotivated person?” “How do you deal with people who start things but never finish?” “At what point do you turn your energy away from dissenters and low performers and focus on those who want to grow?”

In some cases, the answers to these questions come in the form of other questions. For example, some people may not be aware that they are settling for mediocrity. Thus, questions such as “Are you reaching your maximum potential?” and “Would you like to do better?” can help people see possibilities that they had been ignoring.

For motivation, on the other hand, Maxwell offers straightforward advice beginning with, hire motivated people. He also suggests rewarding people for the desired behavior and giving people a reputation to uphold — that is, the more leaders validate people for the good things they do, the more people will want to continue to do them. Leaders must also understand the connection between relationships and motivation. One leader continuously referred to his staff as the “ding-a-lings,” saying such things as “I told the ding-a-lings what to do, but of course they didn’t do it.” His contempt was apparent to his employees, who were, not surprisingly, unmotivated.

As with his many other leadership books, Maxwell’s latest is clearly written, clearly organized and filled with insight engagingly captured through precise and illuminating questions.

Building a “Better” Company

Back in August, we looked at a recent business trend as evidenced by a surge in books about Purpose. Today I’d like to dig into a related trend just beginning to show up in books – The B Corporation.

A B-Corp is an organization certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. B Lab has been at the forefront of this movement and certifies each organization, a group which has topped 1,000 companies from 80 industries and 35 countries.

There is a B Assessment that a company can take to see if they qualify for B Corp status, available at BImpactAssessment, and the website BetterWorldBooks which brings together books in the field of sustainability, B corps, and similar topics.

The first book to come across my desk specifically about B Corps is The B Corp Handbook, written by Ryan Honeyman, himself a B Corp owner. Honeyman worked closely with over 100 B Corp CEOs and senior executives to share their tips, advice, and best practice ideas for how to build a better business, and how to meet the rigorous standards for–and enjoy the benefits of–B Corp certification.

This book makes the business case for improving your social and environmental performance, and offers a step-by-step “quick start guide” on how your company can join an innovative and rapidly expanding community of businesses that want to make money and make a difference.

The B Corp Declaration of Interdependence says it all:
We envision a new sector of the economy which harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit.

This sector is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation, which is purpose-driven, and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

As members of this emerging sector and as entrepreneurs and investors in B Corporations, we hold these truths as self-evident:

That we must be the change we seek in the world.
That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and the future generations.

This group holds to quite high aspirations and the movement seems to be growing. You can see what we’ve covered in this area through recent summaries of The Purpose Driven Economy in September, and The Responsible Entrepreneur coming out next week.

Book Review: Out Think

by G. Shawn Hunter

by G. Shawn Hunter

The keys to competitive advantage in leadership used to be etched in stone. A leader was expected to be relentlessly dedicated to a specialty and use intelligence and drive to separate a company from its competitors. Today’s leaders operate in a different environment. It’s one that requires a combination of flexibility and a willingness to work with others. In each chapter of Out Think, author and executive learning expert G. Shawn Hunter presents a key component and techniques to show how to implement ideas that drive the change leaders want in their organizations. This book is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

Hunter urges leaders to implement a new process that can accelerate new-product and value-creation pipelines. This is to counteract the “marketquake,” a term coined by Hunter to describe the volatile economic conditions of the current business climate. In Out ThinkHunter provides a number of key ideas, each of which is reinforced by takeaways drawn from the author’s access to top-level executives around the globe.

While subjects such as trust, exploration and collaboration are presented in new ways, executives may want to pay close attention to ideas that don’t normally receive as much coverage in business books. Hunter’s chapter on aspiration is one such example. By enabling team members to combine optimism with a well-articulated goal, Hunter provides leaders with the knowledge to turn their employees into company heroes.

Beyond learning why and how innovation has become the primary driver of successful companies, executives will also learn the key components of innovation and how to implement them in their organizations. With Out Think, any leader can make a measurable difference within their organization to outthink the competition.

Find the Sideways Path to Success

It takes 10 years of hard work and persistence to become an overnight success. Or so says the conventional wisdom. But if you’re going to insist on paying your dues, writes Shane Snow in the book Smartcuts, move to the slow lane because there are people who are going to pass you by. In his book, New York-based journalist Snow insists that the smartest people are the ones who refuse to follow the traditional paths to success. Snow uses examples from a wide range of domains, including entertainment, medicine, sports, politics and history, to prove that anyone can propel their way to success in a fraction of the time that others will take.

The secret of Smartcuts (which Snow explains lead to “sustainable success achieved quickly” not the “rapid but short-term gains” of shortcuts) is lateral thinking: knowing how to scramble sideways rather than steadily climbing the ladder of success. Even most presidents of the United States didn’t become president by slowly moving up from political offices to more important political offices until they reached the most powerful political office in the world. Instead, it often took just a couple of bounces from careers in such non-political arenas as acting (Ronald Reagan), the military (Dwight Eisenhower) or academia (Woodrow Wilson) to reach the White House.

Shorten, Leverage or Soar

In his book, Snow identifies nine patterns of lateral thinking, which he divides into three classes evocatively entitled: “shorten,” “leverage” and “soar.”

Instead of gamely following the prescribed path to a destination, some people deliberately shorten the path.

There are, Snow explains in the first part of the book, three ways to do so: “hacking the ladder,” which involves climbing a career ladder in unconventional ways; “training with masters,” which requires developing deep relationship with mentors; and “rapid feedback,” through which ambitious people constantly receive and act on feedback to what they are doing.

Leverage, as the name implies, is the process of using some tool or mechanism to propel yourself toward your goals.The three leverage tools that Snow features are “platforms,” which, as with physical platforms, make you stand out and above the rest of the crowds; “waves,” which, if you place yourself in the right location, can be caught and ridden, much as champion surfers know to which spot they should paddle to catch the best next wave; and “superconnectors,” which involves both getting help from the right people but then offering help once you’ve made it.

Snow’s final category of lateral thinking is to soar, which involves finding the way to keep “momentum”; striving for “simplicity” (a surprising element of sustainable success is the ability to focus on what’s important and simplify the rest; even President Obama has suits in only two colors, explaining to one interviewer that he had enough decisions to make); and 10x thinking — a goal that, unlike the incremental 10 percent improvement thinking, requires starting over doing something completely different.

Nearly every page of this book tells another compelling and inspirational story of someone who has been able to smartcut his or her way to phenomenal success. This is a book for anyone who feels that they are not where they want to be — and don’t have the patience (and perhaps the time) to slowly climb the ladder rung-by-rung.

The Reinvention of a City

First rising to greatness as the result of breathtaking innovation, Detroit had generations of booming growth before succumbing to apathy, atrophy, and finally bankruptcy. Now, the city is rising from the ashes and driving sustainable success through an intense focus on reinvention.

Josh Linkner, a Detroit native, entrepreneur and author, brings an insider’s view of this incredible story of grit, determination, and creativity, sharing his perspective on Detroit’s successes and setbacks as a profound example of large-scale organizational and personal transformation.

The Road to Reinvention is Linker’s latest book and he weaves many stories of Detroit’s rebirth into its pages. Within the book he also provides an outline of the 6 elements of your business that are ripe for reinvention:

1. Cannibalize your own product
2. Retool your operation
3. Create vivid experiences
4. Tell a memorable story
5. Overhaul your culture
6. Reimagine your customer

If you would like to reinvent your business, then we invite you to join us on October 16th for our Soundview Live webinar with Josh Linkner: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation. Josh will explain how this list of potential reinvention points can be applied to your business.