One key to become a highly effective leader is learning to think deeply about personal, team, and organizational mindsets. These mental maps drive behavior at all levels and leaders are very interested in cultural patterns shaped by people interactions. Paradigm hunting in turn requires asking great questions, so here are four suggestions on how to improve leadership inquiry.
A leader’s journey begins and matures from the inside out. This is because it is very difficult to question an organizational outlook without doing so inside first. Changing inside will cause the person to influence change in the external world of work and family. For example, if I think a particular food tastes bad because it looks bad, I will have a hard time persuading others to try it. If I have tried the food and found it good, it is much more convincing to encourage someone else to try too.
Lesson – I must ask great questions of myself before I can do so of others.
One of my favorite definitions of maturity is by Stephen Covey. He defines maturity as the balance of “courage and consideration.” (Covey, 1989) This means courage to say and do the right thing combined with consideration to do it in a kind way.
Lesson – Great questions require I ask hard things in a kind way.
Dr. Deming was an insightful teacher on systems thinking. One of his teaching tools was “The Red Bead” experiment.* Deming called this a silly game but he was passionate about the profound implications for the systems thinking student. A leader in search of a “new box” must first understand the entire existing box, not just a little piece of it. Misunderstanding the current paradigm means the would-be leadership student will likely make the problem worse rather than finding real, long-term solutions.
Lesson – Great questions come out of viewing the individual trees AND the forest at large.
I believe all of us are naturally curious from childhood. Often this curiosity is silenced as we grow and try to become more adult-like. In reality, curiosity is a critical skill for a leader. Without this tool, leadership growth is severely stunted or non-existent.
Innocent curiosity allows the so-called ‘sophisticated’ uncover new ways of thinking which lead to new and better ways of doing. Curiosity gives permission to look for better answers. I don’t know about you but every so often my children have asked very simple yet equally profound questions because they were just curious. How about re-discovering that skill for the good of your part of the world?
Lesson – There really are no dumb questions in the leadership quest. If you think it, ask it … in a nice way of course!
Where is the first place you want to ask questions?
Covey, Stephen R. (1989). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY. Fireside Publishers.
Photo by Florian on Flickr