Our company hosts a bi-weekly gathering of local Christian oriented businesses and business leaders. During one of the recent meetings Pastor, Author, Entrepreneur and Leader, David Clarke, gave a speech on Asking Questions. His Questions and advice to leaders of business, groups or teams got me thinking about how I wished someone had given me more advice like this when I was starting out.
My business school education gave me plenty of knowledge about insurance, business law, accounting, marketing and the like, but no real practical advice on how to lead people, what does that look like? what does it feel like? So thanks to David Clarke and my own hard knocks lessons here are my 6 things I wish someone had taken the time to tell me.
1. Be focused on being the student more than being a teacher
New leaders often feel the need to prove themselves by showing how smart they are, how they always have the right answer, and feeling compelled to teach others how to do things the right way. While knowing what to do, being aware of how to do it and being able to teach are all very important, it is often just as important to let your team teach you. let them explain things in detail, make them learn something and then teach you, let them own knowing what to do, otherwise you will find you never really empower them and will often find yourself staying late doing everything yourself and being frustrated with your team.
2. Ask questions. Without questions you cannot get answers
Asking questions, the right questions, is often as hard to learn to do as being a student, but unless you put your ego to the side and ask good probing and challenging questions, you will miss a lot of good opportunities to allow your team to grow and the chance to learn something new or see a different perspective on things.
3. Don’t get so busy doing, that you do not have time to think about “why” you are doing and “If” you are doing the right things
Urgency and Effort all very important to achieving results, which most leaders are ultimately measured on, but sometimes we can get so caught up on doing that we forget to make sure we are doing the right things or for the right reasons. In your zeal to accomplish, never forget to take time to stop and reflect on the “why” and “if”. Challenge your team to challenge you and themselves on this as well. Otherwise you and your team could fall into the trap of “doing it because you have always done it”, or wind up climbing up a ladder that is on the wrong wall.
4. Be curious, never stop growing
David Clarke, has built his entire success and his platform on this simple mantra, be curious. Only the curious look for and take the time to understand why something is the way it is. Only the curious take the time to see if there is a better way, are we missing opportunities, is there a better way, can we create something unique, what problems exist that most others don’t even know exist? Being curious will require you to ask more questions, learn new things, seek advice, and develop relationships… All things that will help you develop as a great leader.
5. Never assume because of how good you have been, that you will be that good in the future
This advice speaks to the heart of being humble or complacent. Some people might describe it as being cocky, that works too. when I first started out, success seemed to come easy, I thought it was because of my skills, hard work, preparation, relentlessness, etc. In other words I thought I was the reason for my success. What any leader who has been a leader long enough will find out, that while practice, learning, preparation and perseverance are all important for setting you up for success sometimes it is blind luck that you win or loose. Just ask any professional athlete who dedicates his life to his sport and loses because of a gust of wind, a bad bounce, or tripping over a clump of grass.
So never let your ego get in the way of reality and never assume you have all the right answers, always refer back to lessons 1 – 4.
6. Be grateful, don’t be blind to what is working
Natural born leaders, if there is such a thing, tend to be perfectionist, high achievers, or even hyper responsible individuals. So much so that we can often be so focused on finding and eliminating problems and weaknesses that we can tend to take for granted all the great things we and those around us are actually doing.
This is probably my biggest weakness as a leader for my own team. I think it comes from spending so much time as an athlete where coaches, or at least mine, were constantly trying to find one more second in the mile, or 3 more centimeters in the pole vault or one more meter in the javelin throw. I simply grew up thinking this was the way you helped your team. While I understand why they did this it left me with a missing and critical piece of the leadership lessons I would end up learning the hard way.
If you never take time to focus on what you are doing good, what your team and organization are doing good, you can wind up burning them out, making them feel unappreciated and decrease engagement and performance of your team. All in the name of “making them better”.
You see, these 6 lessons took me over 20 years to learn, many I am still working hard to perfect, though I do stop and give myself a break once in a while and give myself a pat on the back for having learned to be curious, ask questions, allow others to teach me, be more humble and take time to “smell the roses”.