Now more than ever, respecting expertise and thinking through our opinions before pushing an agenda may be critical to our short and long-term survival and success. It troubles me greatly when people make blanket statements like, “you can’t trust the media,” or “experts are often wrong, “or “you don’t know who to believe anymore.” This […]
As I’ve covered many times in previous blogs it becomes less and less and about you working harder or having all the answers and more about you diligently asking the right questions and letting others guide you. You need to become an expert question asker and never miss an opportunity to interact with all employees in this manner. There are seven question that when asked on a regular basis will encourage your people and ultimately the company as a whole to learn and grow:
I chair two CEO/Business Owner peer groups for Vistage International. It is a great work that I truly find rewarding on many levels. One of the many benefits of this experience is listening to many subject matter expert speakers and having a vast pool of knowledgeable colleagues to tap into. A few stand out from this exceptional crowd including the speaker we had yesterday – Pat Murray. I have a learned a great deal from him about leadership and group dynamics. When you are in the presence of an expert, make sure you listen to him/her.
You can never lose your edge in business as a leader. The moment you get complacent your organization becomes vulnerable to its competitors and the vagaries of the marketplace. I’ve seen many good companies and talented leaders get caught off guard by changes taking place in their industry or economic realities they were slow to identify and adapt to. The pace of change is only accelerating as the world becomes flatter, technological innovations come more quickly, and customers push for more options at lower prices. Being good enough no longer works, at least not for any extended period of time. Today’s champion is tomorrow’s goat if he/she gets complacent or rests on his/her laurels.
Leaders should be in a constant learning mode. Once you think you know it all give up the reigns of power because you will become detrimental to your organization. While some basic fundamental beliefs may remain true regardless of the circumstances, most of what takes place in business is in a constant state of flux. Your goal should be to stay ahead of the change curve not fall behind it. One way to do this is to keep asking questions and seeking answers. You can never be smart enough.
Most people I know aren’t good listeners. They are more focused on what they think and what they have to say about something rather than actually listening to what’s being said. I have a colleague who states that as a leader you need to “listen until it hurts” and I completely agree with him. It’s basic human nature that the level of satisfaction any of us have with a given conversation is directly related to how well we feel the other party was actually listening to what we had to say. Except when we are in a classroom no one actually enjoys being lectured to or talked at.
I often meet business owners/leaders who think they have it all figured out. Whenever this happens a red flag goes up for me right away. The best leaders I know are in a constant learning mode. They are very aware of what they don’t know and need to learn. They soak up information like a sponge and are energized by new thoughts and ideas. Leaders who are unwilling to admit their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge are eventually confronted with the very reality they are ignoring. It may take time, but it always happens. It’s even worse if they are completely unaware of where they fall short and end up getting blindsided. In leadership positions, ignorance is not bliss.
When in doubt ask good questions and leverage the knowledge and experience of other people. There are few things less attractive about a leader than someone who acts like they know the answer when they don’t. Confidence can be a good attribute but hubris is not. People ultimately see through your words and pick up pretty quickly if you simply make it up as you go along. More importantly, those around you who do have the answers lose respect for you and begin to question everything you say.
As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I am strong believer that a leader’s role especially in fast growing or relatively large organizations is to think. And, to think effectively you need to be well read. You need to have broad understanding of many things including behavioral psychology and general business management issues. It’s also important to be well informed of market realities including local, regional, national or international trends that affect your business. Moreover, as a leader you should leverage the experience and knowledge of past leadership figures and become a student of leadership behavior.
I see people get themselves in trouble all the time by be unwilling to admit they don’t know something. At minimum, they make their lives harder than it has to be. They also make things more challenging for the people around them because someone usually has to pick up after them or cover up the mistake. Politicians are notorious for speaking confidently about things they know very little about (have you watched any of the recent debates). Rather than look uninformed or stupid they prefer to spin the truth or some version of it. Why we continue to reward this behavior in the voting booth is beyond my comprehension.
Knowledge is one of the biggest advantages you can have in life. If you know something and other people don’t then there is automatically a need for your informed opinion. It is the ultimate equalizer because it has nothing to do with age, gender or race. Some people may begin life with a genetic head start or environmental advantages, however, unless they keep learning it is very likely someone else will pass them buy.
A weakness I often see in leaders is a belief that their job is to supply all the answers. They tend to dominate discussions and almost always want to have the last word. The problem is that no matter how smart and capable you are, you will always be limited by your own thinking and life experience. In addition, if you create an environment where everyone looks to you for answers, then you will hinder the growth and development of your employees and enable mediocre effort (and commitment).
…the ultimate goal of any business should be to have high quality employees who are focused on providing value-added services to a loyal and growing client base in an efficient and profitable manner.
I’ve sat through a large number of seminars with many leaders and one thing always sticks out. The most successful business people I know don’t just listen to and absorb information, they act on it. This doesn’t mean they act on everything they hear, but when something does resonate with them, they tend to move quickly to make changes.
I’m often surprised by the number of professionals I meet who say they have no time to read. I can’t imagine a life where reading wasn’t a big part of my routine. It doesn’t matter if it’s for business or pleasure – reading expands the mind. It allows your imagination to wander and let’s your brain recharge. Reading often introduces you to information and perspectives you probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Your vocabulary grows when you read and it also improves your own ability to communicate. There is no downside to time spent reading, but you are at a disadvantage in life if you are not well read.
If you continually broaden your horizons and vary your interests you increase your capacity to manage the inevitable complexity that will confront you in life. You will also enhance your ability to adjust to changing circumstances and make better decisions.
History books and business journals are full of examples of leaders who ignored reality at great peril and plowed forward with a narrow minded or misinformed agendas doomed to fail.
If you condition yourself to be in a constant earning mode it will happen. Your brain can’t help but listen to what you tell it. One way to ensure this happens is to keep a daily log/diary of your learnings. At the end of just one month, you’ll be surprised what you’ve accomplished.
One of a leader’s primary roles is to make the important decisions. Of course, these decisions should not be made without the input of the affected parties and/or others with expertise in a given area. It is also important that these decisions are made with an appreciation of the risks and benefits related to a given situation. And, the bigger the risks or potential benefits the more thoughtful the decision making process should be.
It’s easy to fall in love with your own opinions and limit your intellectual breadth to your own world view; however it also stunts your growth personally and professionally. A good mentor will ensure this does not happen by providing an objective opinion regarding your ideas, decisions and actions.
Learn something new every day; your brain will atrophy like a muscle if it isn’t used on a daily basis.