5 Powerful Questions for New Leaders & 1 Habit to Maintain Traction: Guest Post by David C. Baker

5 Powerful Questions for New Leaders & 1 Habit to Maintain Traction: Guest Post by David C. Baker

Today’s guest blogger is David C. Baker. I met David when I first started my business, through a contact from his publisher during the launch of his book, Managing (Right) for the First Time. I was drawn to his book because I believe managing leadership transitions is one of the keys to success. I read his book cover to cover and helped distribute 24 signed copies to many of you. Of all the books I have shared with clients (over 200 to date), David’s is by far the one I get the most comments back from people about being helpful because it is so practical.

The following content is the property of David C. Baker and is shared on this blog with his full approval. Any reproduction or use of this material without his consent is not lawful. If you like it and want to use it somewhere else, just ask him directly using the link at the bottom of the post.

You haven’t noticed yet, but there are several little red light points on your chest. And no, it’s not because the neighbor kid is playing with the slide presentation pointer that fell out of your briefcase last night when you stumbled home, finally, after a hard day at work. It’s more that you’re in the cross hairs of one or more people who are watching very carefully how you react in the next few weeks.

You’ve crossed a threshold, see, by either managing people for the first time, or trying to do it right for the first time. This is your chance. You’ve experienced a seminal event in your life by entering the “management” room that you’ve only heard of in the past. You’ve criticized the people who have occupied this room without ever knowing what it was really like to be in their shoes.

Now you get to find out, and you get to do it better. Are you ready? Have you been paying attention? Do you understand the minuses that will come with the pluses? It’s a wonderful journey, but it’s not without difficulty.

I can’t remember much about the first time I managed people. Maybe for you it was like my experience, a more gradual transition in that I was managing them in reality long before I was managing them officially, and being promoted was more about recognizing what was already taking place. That’s probably the best way for it to happen.

But I probably don’t remember that first time simply because our culture doesn’t value management all that highly. You don’t read about great managers like you read about great athletes, and so we aren’t accustomed to thinking of the entry to management as some sort of anniversary.

It is, though, because it changes your life. It may not change your life to the same extent that childbirth, marriage, divorce, or death will change your life, but it certainly sets a course with all sorts of implications for your life.

This is a change, and how you react to it will affect your happiness, relationships, health, and wealth. It will also have a strong impact on the people you manage.

You do realize that, right? Twenty years from now, let me sit down with one of your current clients and ask them about you, your impact, and what they learned. Chances are they won’t even be able to dredge a name out of their murky memories. The same is true of your vendors.

But let me do that with one of your current employees in twenty years and they’ll remember you for sure. Hopefully it’ll be for the right reasons, and that’s the opportunity that is in front of you.

Seeing the opportunity is the first step. The next is step back to think about the situation you are stepping into and setting your sights on the impact you want to have. Here are 5 key questions every new leader should ask:

  1. What were the reasons you were chosen for this role?
  2. What are the expectations for you for the first 6 months?
  3. What does your team believe are your key responsibilities?
  4. In 20 years, what do you want others to be saying about you as a leader?
  5. For each item in #4, write 1 or 2 things you commit to doing that will be your first steps towards your leadership legacy?

Key action to maintain momentum: Over your first 6 months, look back at your answers to the previous five questions weekly and think about your progress. If you are brave, get feedback on #2 and #3 from your leader or team. Then weekly ask yourself the questions:

  1. What do I commit to KEEP doing in the next week?
  2. What do I commit to START or STOP doing to improve my effectiveness as a leader?

Did David’s words and wisdom resonate with your leadership role? Visit David’s website or email David directly at david@recourses.com. Here are some additional links to his books:

The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth

Financial Management of a Marketing Firm

Managing (Right) for the First Time: A Field Guide For Doing It Well

They’ll Love Your Questions – by my friend/mentor Mary Jo Asmus

They’ll Love Your Questions – by my friend/mentor Mary Jo Asmus

Today’s guest blogger is Mary Jo Asmus. Mary Jo is a friend and mentor, and I invited her to be part of this series because she is a highly skilled coach and has a gift for asking powerful questions. She has been a great influence on my own coaching approach and practice, and I am excited to connect you with her. For leaders committed to people-centered leadership, you need Mary Jo on the journey with you.

The following content is the property of Mary Jo Asmus and Aspire Collaborative Services LLC and is shared on this blog with her full approval. Any reproduction or use of this material without her consent is not lawful. If you like it and want to use it somewhere else, just ask her directly using the link at the bottom of the post.

They’ll love your questions

Someone who reports to you has a problem they want to solve, and they say they need your help solving it. A little bit of adrenaline kicks into your brain because you love to solve problems, and you can’t wait to hear more.

Stop and think deeply now. How will solving their problem help THEM over the long haul?

You might notice that the really smart and talented people who report to you don’t want your advice, even when they ask for it. How many times have you given your solutions and watched them walk away and actually use the recommendations you gave them? Ok, maybe they have, but they do so with little enthusiasm.

They really don’t want your advice. Even if they accept it, they do so begrudgingly. If they use it, they will use it reluctantly.

Do you really want those talented people who are brimming with oodles of untapped potential to go about their days doing what you tell them because you’re the boss (and they feel like they have to)?

Consider this: If you ask the right questions in the right way, they can figure out what they need to figure out for themselves. They’ll like their own solutions so much more than yours. Their creativity and intuition will kick in. They’ll become motivated. They’ll learn.

They’ll love your questions. If they are driven, smart, talented and want to learn, give them questions instead of solutions.

If you see the sense in this, you’ll need to exercise that question-asking part of your brain because you’ve been solving everyone’s problems all these years.

The way to start is to keep a few questions handy that seem to work to get people’s thinking juices started. Here are some you can start with.

To help them brainstorm solutions:

  • What will that look like when you’re done?
  • Where are you at with that right now?
  • What’s the gap between where you are at right now and where you want this to be?
  • How will you fill that gap?

To get them thinking about taking action:

  • What’s the first step you will take?
  • What’s your next step?
  • What are you willing to try?
  • What will keep you from doing that?
  • When can you start?
  • If you were courageous, what would you do?

To get them to commit:

  • What are you committing to over the next (hour, day, week, etc.)?
  • When can you do that?
  • What will keep you from doing that?
  • How can I help?
  • When should we assess your progress?

When they are really stuck:

  • What’s stopping you?
  • What does your (head or heart) tell you to do?
  • What assumptions are you making about that?

When they did what they said they’d do with great success:

  • What did you do well?
  • What surprised you about what you did?
  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • What’s your next step?

When you don’t have enough information to even ask a question:

  • Can you say more about that?

Try questions in place of problem solving and watch how smart and driven your employees (and you) become!

Did Mary Jo’s words resonate with you? Here is how you can continue to benefit from her wisdom on your leadership journey. Learn more about her executive coaching and leadership development services at www.aspire-cs.com and when you sign-up for her leadership blog/newsletter you receive a copy of her free ebook, Working with Your Executive Coach. Mary Jo is an award-winning blogger and a Professional Certified Coach.

Getting beyond the superficial as leaders: 2 Tips

Getting beyond the superficial as leaders: 2 Tips

Doug Fields, a blogger I follow, recently shared the statement, “Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new.” Recently a coachee shared some appreciation of our time together when he said, “It is nice to have a place where I can be myself and feel safe to share the things that are weighing on me.”

Leadership can be lonely. Leadership can also be a series of superficial relationships because we are busy, and going from meeting to meeting tends to keep us focused on the work while the relationships stay superficial. In leading and working with leaders, getting beyond the superficial requires the sharing of feelings. These cannot be seen as readily and are too often assumed or misinterpreted. Here are two techniques for doing this safely and effectively as a leader:

Tip #1: Getting beyond the superficial with others – One-on-one form

Great conversations start with a question. In my one-on-one form, I start and end with questions that invite people to share what is working and not working. The key to using this is to let people answer the questions they want and keep asking them so that, over time, people will get used to sharing what they are feeling. One leader confided that it took 3 months to get someone to start sharing their frustrations and giving the leader honest feedback about how the leader was making their job harder. For a deeper dive into this conversation, watch my JoHari Window video.

Tip #2: Getting beyond the superficial with ourselves – The Wheel of Life

This tool is designed for leaders to do some self-reflection on the balance in their own lives and what they can do to reset their priorities for areas that are important to them. Balance is a moving target, and doing this exercise and sharing it with someone else moves way beyond the superficial and into what really matters to us – and what is not working so well.

Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new. 

Make some opportunities to move beyond the superficial this week.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

The power of PAUSE: Two tips for practicing it today

The power of PAUSE: Two tips for practicing it today

The summary of our coaching work told a powerful, yet simple, story. “Scott, the biggest impact our time had was to take a deep breath when things got heated and keep my emotions more level so the conversation could continue towards a mutually agreed upon solution.”  Breath = Pause. What situations do you get in where your emotion takes over and the pause button is needed for you to effectively manage your contribution to the conversation?

  • Parenting?
  • Home improvement project with your spouse?
  • Summer canoe trip where you are NOT in the back steering?
  • Riding a tandem bicycle where you ARE in the back and not steering?

The brain is actually wired to react first and think secondly; it is called the amygdala, which is at the base of the brain and controls the fight/flight response. It is supposed to kick in to keep you alive. When humans lived in caves and were outnumbered by animals big enough to eat them, it was critical for survival. Since we have moved into dwellings with locks and walls and work in offices, it is not as critical, but it is still there.

Seth Godin calls the amygdala the lizard brain, and says this in his book Linchpin:

The lizard brain is here to keep you alive, the rest of your brain merely makes you a happy, successful, connected member of society.

People-centered leaders still speak up and disagree, and the reason for having meetings with agendas and frequent one-on-ones with their people is to create space where disagreements can happen and be managed.

Here are two tips for practicing the pause:

  1. Bring water to the meeting and drink when you get irritated or feel the need to offer a quick rebuttle to a comment.
  2. Commit to using the comment “Tell me a little more about that?” at least once in your next meeting.

Where can you practice the pause today? When you practice the pause, how effective are you at restarting the conversation and channeling that emotion into a better solution to the issue you are addressing? When you fail at the pause, how quickly do you apologize and restart?

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

I sat down with a leader to talk about succession, and her biggest concern was the age of two key people and the timing of their retirement. When I asked if she had initiated a conversation about their career plans, her answer was, “My lawyer told me not to because they could sue me for age discrimination.” When I asked what their counsel has told them they could do, she answered, “He never told me that.” I was tempted to ask if they had only paid half the standard hourly rate for that conversation, but held back.

This is not a post about age issues, but a conversation around the barriers I see in leaders around career conversations. The reality is there are risks in these conversations because plan <> promise, and yet having these conversations will make you stand out as a leader and will engage your best people even more.

Reason 1: Don’t know where to start (Ignorance) – When I lay out my proven process to leaders, you can see the tension release. They realize how simple it is and come to see their role as more guide/partner than a leader.

Reason 2: Bad past experience (Scared) – The example I shared above is a great example of scared. The other situation is a bad past experience with career plans because they were laid off in 2007-2009 and still see ‘keeping my job’ as a career goal. They are afraid to say it or assume that is what the answer is. One reason I start my own process with capturing strengths and successes is to energize people.

Reason 3: Too much other work (No time) – I received this from a leader, and when I asked, “How much of your time do you think this will take?” they started a list: meetings, having to fill out a bunch of forms, constantly monitor progress, schedule future meetings, and generally do lots of extra work. When I shared with them my process and their role of being present, asking questions, and giving the ownership to the individual, they were pleasantly surprised and this barrier disappeared. It is work, and the work is largely on the individual if it done correctly. Time is a concern, but it should not be a barrier.

In 2015, I wrote Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance. This stemmed from my experiences helping leaders become more people-centered, in which I noticed them struggling with some of the basic performance conversations with their people. Own It! was written to be handed to someone so they saw their role and each tip becomes a step in the conversation between leader and team member.

Step 1: Ask if it would be of value? If they say yes, hand them Own It! and Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review) to read. If they say no, and you are okay that they have no plan, then focus your efforts on other people on your team.

Step 2: Have them pick the questions around long-term or short-term goals (p. 4 of Own It!). Make the first meeting about reviewing their answers. Ask questions to better understand their answers, and provide them with input on how those fit into some of the challenges you face as a leader and organization.

Step 2.5: Write down their answers and any goals/actions set because of the conversation; set a date to review them in 6-12 months. (Here is a template if you need one.) Around 80% of the time there will be some tangible things the individual can do, either start exploring their plan through gathering more information or actually doing work or start learning around a role they aspire to do.

One of my favorite quotes to frame this whole effort is:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song ~ Maya Angelou

 

How would it change your own journey if you saw your career plans as a song you wanted to sing instead of an answer you were trying to find/provide?

Go Own It!

My top blog posts on this topic:

 

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

In the next week, I’ll be publishing a list of 5 books I recommend for leadership book clubs. A new addition is my favorite book this year: Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. Here is why.

I believe that great conversations start with a question. Marshall Goldsmith asks some great questions in his book Triggers.

Some of the best:

  1. What is the most memorable change you have made in your adult life?
  2. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  3. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  4. Did I do my best to find meaning in my work?
  5. Did I do my best to be happy?
  6. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  7. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
  8. Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic? (called AIWATT for the rest of this post)

There are many reasons I love this book, and the main one is the author’s sharing of powerful questions that he has accumulated in his career as an executive coach. This post will focus on the significance of question #8, and how you can use it as a leader.

In a recent EOS quarterly, a leader shared a learning – “When we set goals, we need to make sure we set them so we can be excited about them and use that energy to complete them.” That is a powerful learning, and something that every leader needs to be thinking about when they accept a To Do or a Rock (quarterly goal). The AIWATT question is the action to ensure this happens.

Remember my 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance? The first tip is Own It, and it is my way of saying what Goldsmith does by posing this question to us. If you answer No to AIWATT, then some other conversations need to happen.

This brings me to a second belief I have – Leadership is about honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance. One of the powerful outcomes for me from Triggers is that, as a coach, I need to always be focusing on creating space that allows honesty to happen, because that is the hard part. In my experience, thoughtful action is the easier part.

Two myths that leaders need to remember:

  • We need to love 100% of our work. There is an eastern adage: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Here is an example: I don’t like confronting people I don’t know. However, as president of an all-volunteer athletic booster organization, one of my roles is to call volunteers who have made commitments and are not doing the work. It is my job and the team depends on my doing it – so I do it because I have to, and make sure I overbalance it with other tasks I enjoy doing.
  • We have to do 100% of our work. Delegating pieces of our work to others who have more talent/passion for that work is fine. Just don’t always pass on the hard conversations, and tell them why you are asking for their help – because they are better at it/more passionate about it.

Let me propose two actions:

  1. For EOS leaders: Teach the AIWATT philosophy. As you go through the To Do list, ask people to answer the AIWATT question with the caveat that if the answer is No they acknowledge who they will ask for help – or that I will Own It (and use those words). *Note: Make a note for anyone answering the latter, and follow-up with them one-on-one to do some micro-supporting.
  2. For individuals: Put an AIWATT on two post-it notes and stick one to your computer screen and one to your phone for a week. Ask yourself that question continuously during meetings, when you answer emails, and when you do any morning/evening quiet time. After a week, do 5 minutes of personal reflection with the question, “How did AIWATT impact my leadership this week? Of myself? Of others?” If this reveals something for you that you need to bounce off someone, just call me and we can do a 15-minute coaching session: 616-405-1018.

I believe . . . great conversations start with a question.

 

Leadership is . . . having honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

 

Lead well . . .

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

It is very common for leaders to have difficulty connecting with their people. But effective people-centered leadership relies upon effective conversations.

There are resources that can help; here are my top 4 book recommendations to help improve these leadership conversations, specifically the one-to-one, for you or someone you know.

I also have a library of free resources and templates to help get you started.

Powerful Questions

Powerful Questions

Great conversations start with a question.  This is one of my core beliefs.

I spent four days this past month delivering a customized leadership development program to twenty-five leaders – in their final checkout one-third of the leaders shared a commitment to asking more powerful questions.  As leaders, they realized they had limits to what they could accomplish without help.  After being challenged to get their teams more aligned and engaged in the goals for their group, it became clear that asking questions is a critical first step.  It was great to see them own it.

The difference between a question and a powerful question is in what it produces.  Powerful questions produce thinking, feeling, and ultimately sharing that makes the conversation meaningful and helpful to both people who are engaged in it.  Powerful questions reframe our perspective on an event so we see it in a more significant way.  Here are some examples:

  • Question: How was your day?  Powerful question:  What was the best part of your day?
  • Question:  What are you working on right now?   Powerful question:  What are your top 2 priorities to complete this week?
  • Question:  How would you like to spend our time today?    Powerful question:  What 2 things do you want to make sure we cover today?
  • Question:  What did you think of the book?   Powerful question:  What is one thing you plan to do differently based on what you read?
  • Question:  What went wrong?   Powerful question:  What was your role in the outcome?

To achieve mastery at asking powerful questions, it is important to create scripts that help ensure they get asked in the time you devote to your people.  Let’s face it, we get weary sometimes and when we do our conversations become shorter and shallower.  We miss opportunities to really listen as leaders, so scripting helps create more moments where powerful questions get asked.  Here are four that I put into my one-on-one template:

  1. Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
  2. What is energizing you right now?
  3. What is frustrating you right now?
  4. What do you want to make sure we cover in our time today?

What meeting do you have in the next 24 hours that needs some powerful questions to be asked?

Remember – Great conversations start with a question . . . . think of how much greater it could be if it started with a powerful question.

If you want to explore some other ways to work questions into your conversations with your people many of my templates have questions included. Here is the link to some free talent management templates.

Time to DEVELOP PEOPLE – 3 Tips to Make It Happen

“I don’t have time for development for myself, how can I do it for my people.”

In 2008-2011 money was the number one reason I heard for not being able to develop people.  Today, the most common reason I hear is time.  Three thoughts on this:

Thought #1:  If it is really important you will make time.  If it is not you won’t.

As a parent I started to use the phrase “There are lots of reasons, but there are no excuses.” in response to teenagers in my life coming up with various excuses why things don’t get done.  It helped me shift them from passing the blame with an excuse back to thinking about the reason something happened so we could have an Adult to Adult conversation around the importance of what was supposed to get done and what we could do to make that barrier (aka. reason) go away.  It also helped remind me that these reasons are real for them and I cannot unilaterally fix them, but together we can probably figure it out if they will own the reasons and agree on the priorities.

There are lots of reasons for not sitting down for 30-45 minutes once a quarter with your people to focus on their growth, but no excuses – – if you really do care about their professional development.

Thought #2:  Employees own their development.  The organization owns support. (Note:  As the leader, you represent the voice of the organization)

I recently talked to a leader struggling with the One-on-One template/meeting structure I share on my website.  It was lots of work for him, and his people were not really engaged.  As we talked, I learned he was filling out the form and owning the updating of it and the scheduling of the meeting.  It was lots of work because he was doing their work.  We are working on flipping the model.

Remember to encourage and support them.  If they are not sure what their role is give them my whitepaper – 5 Tips for Owning Your Career and Development.

Thought #3: Beware of the Myth of Controlling your Time

In my book, I talk about how OBN (Ought But Not) Leaders have fallen for the illusion of control around time.  Leaders need to make sure their TIME is focused on THEIR PRIORITIES and the ORGANIZATION’S PRIORITIES.  It is not easy, but if you really believe investing in your people is a priority, then we can find the time.  The tools are easy – read the HBR article Who’s Got the Monkey or read my trUTips on this and go to the special web page for additional resources to help you start owning your time.  The work of change is not easy, but it is important and achievable.

The ironic think is that I made the statement that started this post.  I believe Learning + Doing = Growth, so I am busy making my development a priority and finding time to make it happen.  I have no excuses.

Writing More Effective Goals – Some tools that will help

The most important part of professional development is writing the goals.  We can talk about it, we can get excited about attending a great class or program, but in the end what we do with what we have learned is the ROI!  Sure it takes support, maybe some coaching, but it has to start with defining a target we can focus on.  The goals and action plan are critical.

I was leading a book study with a group of entrepreneurial leaders, and as usual one of the conversations we had inspired me.  Also, as usual I had about 15 minutes to share some tips I have learned around writing goals and it was not enough.  So I wrote an article on LinkedIn titled Leaders – Write Better Goals for Yourself: 3 Critical Mistakes And How to Fix Them.   If you are at or near evaluation time for yourself or delivering evaluations for others, take a look.  My goal, as always, is to equip leaders with the tools they need to have more impactful conversations around growth and development.

Could you share it with your LinkedIn community?  Thanks for the help in starting a conversation around this.

Also – Here is a worksheet I use with clients to help them write better goals as they go through their own evaluation/development