When I was a young leader, I thought my primary job was to have all the answers. In addition to answers, I thought my ideas had to be completely original.
“That’s ludicrous!” you think. Yes, it is.
As I was coming up in my professional career, the “leaders” that had modeled that very tactic would rarely, if ever, “site their source” for the ideas or wisdom they would share.
For instance, I once heard a person in a position of authority share, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” I thought that was brilliant until I later learned that was not their own idea, which they projected as their own.
Some of you even had a freak-out moment because I didn’t instantly put Maya Angelou’s name following that quote. Yet this is a simple and helpful example of immature leadership.
Think about this as you lead…
How profound would it be for an aspiring leader to see his or her manager model the humility to site their source? Not to mention the implicit encouragement to read and learn from others, even people outside of their “camp”!
About a decade later in the 2008/2009 timeframe, I learned that at the beginning of knowledge is typically a very good question. I learned this in large part from a person named Shandel, who was the head coach of True Life Coaching at the time.
Instead of having answers, I learned that I should strive to have questions. Admittedly, not just any questions, but questions that assume the best and are genuine. Questions that are “positive, proactive questions.”
Shortly thereafter, two pivotal life events took place that reinforced the notion that I must become GREAT at asking positive, proactive questions. Namely: foreclosure and getting fired.
Nowadays, I get to share that some of the the best things that happened to me, next to faith and family, were the foreclosure on our first home (due to getting laid off in the great recession which was paired with the pregnancy of our first child) and getting fired a few years later from what I thought was a dream job (which corresponded with the pregnancy of our second child).
Why do I mention this?
It was during these “hurt so good” moments that I realized I had a very weak muscle when it came to asking positive, proactive questions. In other words, I was so busy telling everyone what to do that when I got caught in a jam, I experienced my poor ability to ask good, hard questions.
Thankfully, I was motivated to learn the “art of asking” positive, proactive questions.
Okay, nice story. Glad you made it through the rough patch, but how can I figure out how to ask better questions? So glad you asked!
If I had to do it over, I would begin practicing the two most helpful exercises that I learned during those hard years:
1. Positive, Proactive Listening (which I’ll describe below)
2. Reading very specific Books (which I’ll map out in Part 2)
Leadership is an ongoing Process
The real secret here is listening (sometimes referred to as “active listening”). Listening for what IS being said and what is NOT being said.
In my later career I had a quality leader that shared listening was a lot like physically attempting to enter a structure.
Think about it this way, when we’re in a conversation we should listen to what is being said as if the words being used were access points like a “gate”, a “door”, or a “window” into a world. Each example is simply a different angle in.
We would most likely walk through a gate differently than we might climb through a window because either entry point has different nuances and requires ME to be “granted access” to my companion differently.
Now, let’s assume that we’ve been granted access into their world. Once inside, we then follow the positive, proactive listening model which is simple but profound.
Shandel Group Model*
For what is being said and what is not being said, but always assuming the best first and while considering what you need clarification on.
Being fully present to learn from what you just now heard? Not giving into previous assumptions or hunches, but actual, concrete fresh learning.
3. Lead with Questions
Continually practice “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” by asking clarifying questions accordingly. (Want to know where this concept became more mainstream? It’s Habit #5 of the 7 Habits by Covey)
That's it! Now you have a point of reference for the positive, proactive listening mental model. In Part 2 I will share the specific resources that were most helpful in developing quality listening skills in order to care for our people even better.
Pulling for you,
*We’ve learned and adapted from our friends at the Eagle Center for Leadership