Posts Tagged ‘The Rhetorical Journey’

In meetings, John D. Rockerfeller would sit and not say anything.  Many times he would appear to be asleep.  However when he did speak, it was always a question.  It was a question that would break the status quo of the discussion and bring out new viewpoints on a challenge.  Michael Dell doesn’t speak much in meetings, but when he does it is almost always a question.

As a business school professor I teach by asking questions.  Verne Harnish says “we are good at finding answers to questions, leaders find the right questions”.

Nobody knows as much as Everybody

Business regularly promote the best performer to be team leader.  The top salesman becomes sales manager.  The top programmer becomes team lead.  The top engineer becomes operations manager.

The previous strength of the individual becomes their greatest weakness as a leader.

They know they were the best, so they have the best answers.  When they feel a little threatened in the new role, they stop asking questions.   They diminish the impact of those around them.

Nobody knows as much as everybody.  Even if I were to be technically the smartest person in the room, the combined capacity of others will be more powerful.  We ask questions when we are humble.  Liz Wiseman, author of “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”, says we ask good questions when we are not thinking “I am the smartest person in this room”.  Liz calls this leader a “multiplier”.

John Baldoni offers 4 ways to improve your questions in the Harvard Business Review.  Learn to Ask Better Questions:

  1. be curious,
  2. be open-ended,
  3. be engaged and
  4. dig deeper.

Uncertainty and Frustration stop you from Leading Others

Last week, I was with a good friend and our 3 kids at the beach.  We left the beach at sunset and cycled home.  When we reached home, I discovered that we were locked out of the house.  I had left another key in the inside of the lock, and was now unable to open the door from outside.  It was getting dark and our 3 kids (between the ages of 3 and 5) were hungry and asking repeatedly “why are we outside?”

I felt stupid.  I stopped communicating.  I was getting frustrated by the kids asking “why are we outside?”  I was angry at myself.

I didn’t speak much to my friend and our kids.  First, I searched see if any windows or doors were open.  After 10 minutes walking around the house, no joy.  Fort Knox.

I asked my friend “do you have your mobile?”  I made some calls to get the number of the security company.  I finally spoke to someone who said they would send a car, it would probably take 40 minutes.  I said “ok”.

It was only now that I took a deep breath and explained the situation to my friend and our 3 kids.  I could see that my daughter had really wanted to help and she felt bad that I had ignored her.  My well-meaning actions had alienated the others.  Luckily my friend had created a little game to play with the kids while we waited.  He got the towels from the bag to wrap the kids and keep them warm.  I was no longer the leader in this group.  My friend was the emotional centre of the group.  I was an individual specialist who had emotionally abandoned the group in a moment of need. I lost control because of my frustration at myself.

I stop asking questions when I am angry at myself, feel overwhelmed or uncertain.

The Territory of Leadership is Uncertainty

Managers deal in improving the status quo.  Management is about doing the same things a little better.  Leaders deal in uncertainty.  Leadership is about giving others the confidence to move forward, helping them believe their own answers.

A friend of mine, Jacques, is the father of a tennis player.  If she loses, he asks “when did you know you were going to lose?  Why did you not stop right then?”  A leader must be able to regain belief.  When a team is winning, the captain can be a manager.  When the team is losing and doubt is in the minds of the players, the captain must become a leader.  He must take control of emotions.  First his own.  Then he must project his certainty out to the group.  Leadership is emotional work.  Leadership is about making sense of emotions and helping everyone reach a mental state that allows for performance.

A great leader believes in people and asks questions that help them perform.

John DeMartini talks about a transformational moment in his life.  He was 17, living in a tent and surfing the beaches of Hawaii with no purpose or plan.  A 93 year old man was talking with a group on the beach.  John listened.  At the end John approached the man.  The man asked him about his life and what he wanted to do.  John found himself answering that he would be a teacher.  The man listened and when he finished, looked him in the eyes and said “This is going to happen.  You are going to be a great teacher.  What will you do next?”  The man said these words with such conviction and belief that John knew it would happen.  John’s goal in life is to do the same for a 17 year old when he himself is 93 years old.  Leadership is about helping people believe in themselves.  It is helping someone reach enough certainty to take action.

The Best Questions…

  • The best Leadership Question:  “What is the next right thing to do?”
  • The best Teaching Question: “What do you think?  What other options do you see?”
  • The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish.  Imagine yourself there.  What does it feel like?”
  • The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
  • The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
  • The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.)  What other criteria are important in making this decision?”  (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)

What question will you ask?

The Origin of Leaders

The next post in this series will turn back inwards and look at why you would choose the path of leadership and stick to it for life.  What is a fulfilling life?  How can you live so that you reach the last day and say “I don’t want to go, but if I had it over again I would live much the same way.”

Habits play an important role in the origin of leaders. Successful leaders understand this.

How do we succeed in making changes in our lives?  How do we convert an event into a pattern—or ongoing habit–into our character or ongoing daily activities?

For example, when I first moved to Spain, I had only ever drunk one cup of coffee in my 29 years of life.  In my first month in Barcelona, I began to go to the coffee bar with my friends in the morning, as is the daily tradition here.  Over the course of the month I had a few coffees.  Some days yes, some days no.

The second month I started to enjoy this little habit and so probably had a coffee each morning. Over the next 8 years, however, I reached the point where I “need” 3 coffees during the 7am to 2pm period!  (I have probably drunk a swimming pool’s worth of coffee!)

What’s the point? I would never have drunk so much of coffee had it not been one of my daily habits. Drinking coffee is perhaps not an example of a positive, productive habit – but the story shows how habits enter a life.  I started writing seriously about 2 years ago.  I write 500 words a day.  Sometimes I write more, but my conscious daily habit is to ensure that I write 500 words each day.

We are what we habitually do

You are not a smoker if you smoke 1 cigarette.  You are not a smoker if you smoke 2 cigarettes.  You become a smoker at some point where it becomes a daily thing!

Likewise, you’re not a writer if you write today.  You are not a writer if you write a couple of times a year.  You only become a writer when it becomes a daily thing.

We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.  This is a widespread human challenge.  Most people, including myself, will set a list of to-dos for today that is impossible to achieve.  I overestimate what I can realistically get done today.  I underestimate the interruptions, the distractions and my ability to maintain focus on the tasks.  However, we underestimate our potential to create over the course of a year – if I do a little bit each day.  In my coffee example, if somebody showed me a big vat with all the coffee I drank last year and said – “can you drink all this?”  I would balk at the sheer volume.  However, done step by step, over many days, as a habit – enormous things are achievable.

What are habits?

Habits are actions you regularly do.  Smoking starts as an event, turns into a pattern, and becomes a habit.  Aristotle says “we are what we habitually do”.  Who I am and become is directly related to my daily habits!.

Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly.  As the routine is repeated more and more regularly it takes less and less effort or self-discipline to begin and complete the routine.  Some say that it takes 30 days of sustained routine for it to become habitual.  If you write for 10 minutes for the next 30 days before you begin your day’s work, it will be an effort and require discipline for the first few days, but if you have the strength to keep it up it will become almost automatic around the 30 day point.

Start the day slowly

Ken Blanchard starts each day the same way.  After waking, before getting up and meeting the day, and certainly before checking emails, he sits on the edge of his bed.  He places his hands with palms down on top of his thighs and he listens to the thoughts running through his mind, the ideas, the people, the doubts; he listens to his body, how it feels, where it hurts.  After 5 minutes or so when he feels he has heard what his mind has to say, he turns his hands over so the palms facing up.  He thinks “what do I want to be grateful for at the end of today?”.  He starts each day this way – he calls it “starting the day slowly”. This start means that he spends the day on what is important.

Habituating Learning

All senior executives of Goldman Sachs are on 2 teleconferences every day.  At 6am and at 6pm they all dial in and have short conversation.  The 6am call looks at what patterns are happening today and gets each leader reflecting on the day ahead.  The 6pm call answers one question “What did we learn today?”.  This routine ensures maximum learning every day through a habitual reflection on what worked and what didn’t work during the day.  How do you ensure that you learn from each day?  Do you pause to reflect on what worked and what did not?

Routine sets you free.

I had a coffee with Verne Harnish just before Christmas at IESE business school.  Verne is author of The Rockerfeller Habits and founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.  We talked about habits.  Verne says “routine sets you free”.  Deciding on what works and ensuring that it is a daily habit is something that makes the successful leaders stand out.  Michael Dell has a routine, regular habits, for reviewing his business performance.  Steve Jobs has a routine.  Bill Gates has a routine.  Warren Buffett has a routine.  Do you have a routine?  What differentiates the great work days in your life from the others?  How can you ensure that every day has the habits of the best days?

Verne coaches hundreds of businesses.  One important habit that he pushes in a big way is to ensure that all employees spend time in a daily huddle.  This daily huddle is used by hundreds of businesses.  It is a short 10-15 minute meeting where each person only says 2 things – what they are working on that day and (optionally) an obstacle that is in their way.  This 10-15 minute meeting allows a connection of the people within the company, and ensures that employees are proactive in planning their days.

Summary

We are creatures of habit.  We will repeat what we have done yesterday.  We are creatures of precedent. Share the habits you’re building into your life!

12/17/10 Update – Himanshu sent a CR workbook to BNA detailing the revised estimates for all CSOW items

Stop.  Take a look around you.  Take a look at the people you work with, the people you meet at parties, even the people you just casually pass in the street.

How do they spend their days?

Most of them work.  They do some other activities as well. They sleep, eat, cook, hang out with friends, watch TV, play sport and some might play an instrument.  Nothing, however, comes close to the hours that they dedicate to work.

Now, honestly, how well do they do it?  Well enough to keep the job?  Maybe well enough to get a promotion every couple of years?  But are any of them great at what they do?  Truly world class?  Excellent?

Why?  How can they spend so much time at it, going through school, through university, maybe even an MBA, executive seminars, coaching, mentors, high-flyer programs…  but they are not great at what they do.

Why?  Some people have been working for 30, even 40 years.  After all these thousands of hours most people are no more than mediocre at what they do. This is sad.

Only two routes to get more done

There are two routes to double the output.  One is to work double the hours.  Instead of 4 hours, I give 8 hours.  I may get double the output.  It is unlikely.  The marginal utility reduces for each additional hour as tiredness and loss of focus become stronger.  There is also a physical limit to this approach.  I only have a limited number of hours in a day, in a week…  in a life.  So, I might increase today’s output by 20% or even 30% by adding hours, but this is not a healthy route.

Route two is to double the effectiveness of my hours.  How can I begin a process that continually increases the value of output of the hours that I give to a task or a job or a cause?

People who improve their effectiveness daily have two things in common:  they care about the outcome and they remain humble.

Care about the outcome

There is a Spanish saying that there is no good wind for a boat with no rudder.  Alice, when she reaches Wonderland asks White Rabbit “Which path should I take?”  White Rabbit replies “where are you going?”  Alice: “I don’t know.”  White Rabbit: “Then it doesn’t matter which path you take.”  Posts 1 and 2 in this series talked of Imagination and Ambition – about deciding and committing to a course of action, about clarity in what you seek to achieve.  If you don’t care where you are going, then effective learning is not going to happen.

Arrogance stifles growth, Humility enables growth

Learning requires change.  Change requires humility.  Humility does not come easily to successful people.  It did not come easy to me.

I was having drinks with a group of professors at IESE two weeks ago after playing football.  The conversation came around to “which program do you prefer to teach?”.  An MBA student at the table said “The MBA must be the best program to teach on.  Young, ambitious, successful people.  The senior director programs must be the hardest.  They must be so demanding.”

Alex said “No.  Years ago I preferred the MBA, but now I definitely prefer teaching the executive programs.  MBAs are typically 27, have done well in school, got to a top university, got a great job, done well, got into IESE MBA…  and believe they know everything.  The senior directors of 55 have learnt how little they really know.  They come humble.  They are aware of the value of education.  They come prepared and ready to apply the material into their lives.  The senior director programs are the most rewarding to teach.  MBAs are hard work”.

“Tinkering” and The Need for Deliberate Practice

The motto of the ActiveGarage is “Always tinkering”.  This is a great motto for this post on learning.  What is tinkering?  Playing with something.  Testing.  Changing inputs and looking to see what happens.

In school we do “book learning”.  We learn to memorize facts and to store those facts long enough to recall them during exams.

In life we do experiential learning.  We try, we fail, we reflect and we try again.  Tom Peters says that “the only source of good knowledge is bad experience.”  He is right.  The knowledge that a leader needs is not written in the textbooks.  It is not available from professors.  Textbooks, professors and gurus have there place.  They can help me make sense of my experience. Mentors, peers and coaches can play a crucial role in the process of experiential learning.  The can help me understand their experience.  However, there is no substitute for personal experience, for our own practice.

A science has been developing around the field of developing exceptional performance.  What leads to world class performance?  “Deliberate Practice.”

The 5 ingredients of Deliberate Practice and the 3 models of mastery is explored on The Rhetorical Journey blog.

Most problems we face in life are not solvable through thinking alone.  You have to try a few things and see how they work.  In business, you often have to try in a way that is visible to others.  Some of those others cannot wait to see you mess up and laugh at your attempt.  However you need the real world test in order to be able to reflect and refine your approach.  The person making 1% incremental improvements day after day will always beat the person looking to make a 40% improvement in one big step.  The humility of asking for help and sharing experience magnifies the value of the learning.

What do you think? Are you a “tinkerer?” How do you test and attempt incremental changes?

The next post in the series will combine Imagination, Ambition and Learning and look at what can only come from within a person.