For those of you who are on the go and want a quick reference for building your leadership skills, this is the book for you. Drawn from Leaders are Made Not Born, this book summarizes fifteen useful tips for those who want a quick look at leadership. This is an easy read and offers special notes for entrepreneurs. It will grab your interest and desire to know more.
“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” — Woodrow Wilson
“Leaders are most known by the questions they consistently ask.” — Terry Paulson
Assuming that you have a good general vision of where you want your team to go, it’s up to you to work with your people to reach that goal. In many cases, you’ll have confidence in your own vision and plan. When you’re certain everyone understands both, you can lead them to the next step or to completion, reinforcing, explaining, and teaching along the way. On the other hand, you may accept recommendations from others before or after the plan is executed. The final decision, however, is your responsibility. Many managers incorrectly assume that their opinions alone must prevail if they are to accept responsibility. This is simply not true. Your team should be viewed as a vast resource from which to draw. How much you draw is up to you, but you must be willing to ask for input.
For some reason, my career has not run in a straight line, especially where technology, services, or products were concerned. I’ve been involved with stealth R&D, aircraft design and production, logistics support, re-engineering, software development, and telecommunications. Since I was not an expert in any of these areas, initially, I had to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, the questions were necessary for me to understand the technology involved, and sometimes they were to identify the specific plans designers and developers had in mind. I learned a great deal about the health of an organization, as well as about options for solving problems, through asking the right questions of the right people. There are lots of smart people all around you. Asking questions allows you to match these talents to your vision and, in some cases, to improve your vision.
When I was in college, the tacit rule was not to ask any questions in a lecture lest you continue the class beyond the appointed adjournment time. In business meetings, this tendency seems to continue. Questions not only extend meetings, but your question might be seen as “creating waves.” I don't mind creating waves, especially if it helps me solve a problem and make others aware that the problem exists. If the question pertains only to my particular problem, I take it offline. But I ask the questions to which I need answers. I have been accused in public of being an iconoclast for asking many of these questions, but at the same time, I have earned a certain respect.
Ask questions. Challenge policies, processes, and the status quo when you have doubts. If you don't seek information, you won’t learn. Unlike lessons in schoolbooks and manuals, most day-to-day organizational operations and technology uses are not written down! If you don’t ask, you remain in the dark. Remember also that questions form the basis for critical thinking. By the way, there are dumb questions, despite what the teachers say. But, if you’re eager to learn, you’ll ask a few dumb ones anyway.
If you’re a reader of fiction, you may be interested in this quote from novelist Bob Mayer from his Atlantis series. In it, one of his characters says, “I've asked many silly questions in my life, and I never regretted one. But I have some regrets about the times I kept my mouth shut when I should have spoken up.” Don't stop asking.
When you can't think of a question, have people ask you questions. They might be about the organization, an issue, a project, or a process. A colleague of mine who looked over my shoulder as I wrote this sent me a note that is worth sharing, despite this seemingly not-so-politically-correct suggestion: “Seek out the ignorant [the uninformed], and have them ask you questions. They may ask the ‘dumb’ or perhaps ‘embarrassing’ questions that no one close to the problem thought to ask and, therefore, more fully characterize your understanding.”
Finally, as in all things, balance is required. A senior HR generalist friend recently reminded me of the danger of asking too many questions or asking them in an intimidating fashion. Here is his short, insightful story:
“All leaders should ask questions, but they should be careful in their approach. In two instances I have worked with/for senior leaders who were trained lawyers and more often than not applied the Socratic method to their line of questioning. This inevitably led to less conversation, and the idea of healthy conflict went by the wayside. Leaders must be self-aware and learn that [bombarding and] berating employees with question after question will likely lead to undesired results. One recent example I can speak to has to do with a CEO’s regularly scheduled Monday morning senior leadership meetings. The meetings were dreaded. The reason they were dreaded is because participants never felt they could adequately prepare for the CEO’s line of questioning. They equated it to sitting through an interrogation.”
Many entrepreneurs started their business with just themselves. They had specific expertise, they had a vision, and they were motivated by that vision. As the business grew, they had to add people to build the revenue stream and meet increased customer demand. Often, those entrepreneurs felt they knew everything about their business and saw no need to ask questions of employees or even to listen to them. Things change over time and at some point, the entrepreneur doesn’t know everything, or even how to improve his business. Enter the need to ask questions.
Who better to ask for suggestions than those people who do the work? Or, how about asking other entrepreneurs about how they met with and responded to changes or needed improvements? You’ll never know until you ask.
Do you often ask questions?
If no, why not?
What could you learn by asking questions?
When was the last time you asked a question? Has it been too long?
About the Author
Dr. Farlow is a partner with Wolf Leadership Development, LLC. He is a leadership specialist, speaker, author and master coach. He has more than thirty years’ experience in the public and private sectors, ranging from a career as a highly decorated naval aviator to management and senior executive positions in corporations such as Alcoa, McDonnell Douglas, Teledyne, and CACI International. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and has earned master's degrees in management and technology and a doctorate in organizational leadership. Dr. Farlow has also served as a guest columnist for the San Antonio Express News. In addition to this book (Quick Tips for Leaders), Dr. Farlow is the author of Leaders are Made Not Born: 40 Simple Skills to Make You the Leader You Want to Be