[June 01, 2014] An important way of learning to be better leaders is to listen to other senior leaders talk and ask them questions. We all know the other main way to learn is from the mistakes of others and we have explored this latter way considerably in this leader blog.
Prior to the “surge” in Iraq, after President Bush announced his decision to send more troops, I got the change to listen to Generals Petraeus and Odierno explain their concept of how they planned to employ those troops in combat. The point of the meeting of senior officers was to flush out the details and any problems that others could come up with for discussion. I got the chance to ask a number of questions that was helpful later when the troops started to arrive and sent into combat.
Senior leaders are like everybody else; sometimes they are not completely clear, maybe they lack focus, or perhaps unclear in their words and for various reasons fail to convey an idea. By asking questions of them, we can better understand what they are thinking and therefore can better accommodate their wishes for their organization. As a U.S. Army flag officer, I frequently had to ask questions to get a fuller understanding of the issue at hand.
“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” – Anthony Robbins
There are general questions that can help us significantly. Here are 12 of them in no particular order:
Of your top 10 priorities in the organization (or mission), which one of these have you consciously decided not to do?
- If you had to name only one characteristics of your most successful leaders, what would it be?
- How do you know that your organization and mission are properly aligned with your “core values?”
- How do you ensure your leaders continue to improve themselves?
- What is the most important thing for a senior leader to do when there is a most difficult problem that must be fixed?
- What is the most important resource for leaders?
- How important is relevant experience and formal education when hiring new leaders?
- When speed of making a decision is important, what process do you use to ensure the decision is the correct one?
- How do you ensure the culture of the organization improves when under great stress?
- How do you create and maintain a positive work environment?
- What processes do you use to ensure good communication among the employees when you are absent?
- How do you ensure big ideas are recognized early and not caught up in the bureaucracy?
I recommend that before these questions are asked, that you take the time and effort to bounce them off others and to articulate what you think the answers should be to be satisfactory for you.
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