GOOD LEADERS ASK GREAT QUESTIONS by John C. Maxwell -THE COMPLETE SUMMARY
PART I: QUESTIONS I ASK
Why Are Questions So Important?
If you want to be successful and reach your leadership potential, you need to embrace asking questions as a lifestyle. Here’s why: You Only Get Answers to the Questions You Ask. Asking the right question of the right person at the right time is a powerful combination because the answers you receive set you up for success. IBM founder Thomas J. Watson said, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” But that’s true only if you are willing to ask the question. Questions Unlock and Open Doors That Otherwise Remain Closed. In life’s journey we face many doors. Hidden behind them are all kinds of possibilities leading to opportunities, experiences and people, but the doors must be opened before we can go through them. Questions are the keys to opening these doors. Questions Are the Most Effective Means of Connecting with People. I often watch speakers stand before an audience and work to build a case for their ideas. They would be more successful if instead they tried building a relationship with the people in the room. The most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions. Questions Cultivate Humility. Isn’t it strange how we must surrender being right in order to find what’s
right, how humility enables us to be authentic, vulnerable, trustworthy, and intimate with others? People are open to those who are open to them. Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation. I want people to know that I value them and that, if possible, I want to add value to them. To do that, I believe I must get to know them. That requires that I ask questions, they talk and I listen. Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas. Any idea gets better when the right people get a chance to add to it and improve it. And good ideas can become great ones when people work together to improve them. What is the key to shared thinking? Asking the right people the right questions. Questions Give Us a Different Perspective. By asking questions and listening carefully to answers, we can discover valuable perspectives other than our own. That’s valuable because we often make faulty assumptions about other people. We can correct those wrong assumptions and prevent miscommunication by asking questions. Questions Challenge Mindsets and Get You Out of Ruts. Too many people have flat-lined mentally. If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions. Questions are the first link in the chain of discovery and innovation. Never forget: good questions inform; great questions transform! What questions have others asked of you that have made a positive difference in your life? What questions have you asked others that are helping you even today? Become intentional from this point on in being a questioner. You should even ask questions of yourself.
What Questions Do I Ask Myself as a Leader?
As a leader, I can allow others to ask me the hard and important questions, or I can take responsibility, be proactive and ask those questions of myself. I pass these questions on to you as a guide, with the suggestion that you develop your own list. Am I Investing in Myself? A Question of Personal Growth. The most important investment you and I will ever make is in ourselves. That investment will determine the return that we get out of life. Three main factors come into play. These will determine if or how you will invest in yourself: your self-image, how you see yourself; your dream: how you see your future; and your friends: how others see you. Am I Genuinely Interested in Others? A Question of Motivation. Someone once said, “People have two reasons for doing anything — a good reason and the real reason.” For you to be a good leader when dealing with people, the good reason must be the same as the real reason. Your motives matter. Am I Grounded as a Leader? A Question of Stability. Just as leaders are vulnerable to acting for their personal advantage, they are also susceptible to having an overblown sense of their own importance. That’s why they need to remain grounded. Good leaders need to exhibit three important qualities: humility: understanding your place in light of the bigger picture; authenticity: being comfortable in your own skin; calling: having a purpose that is bigger than you. Am I Adding Value to My Team? A Question of Teamwork. Here are my suggestions for adding value: promote full commitment, create an environment of encouragement and support, identify adversity as an opportunity to develop character, and consider each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Am I Staying in My Strength Zone? A Question of Effectiveness. Staying in your strengths gives you an advantage. In a world where people spend much of their time shoring up their weaknesses, your focus on maximizing your strengths will set you apart from others. The more you focus on your strengths, the better you will be positioned to see and seize opportunities as they arise. Am I Taking Care of Today? A Question of Success. Good leaders naturally look to the future. They are known for vision and for leading others to new and higher destinations. However, the future isn’t where anything gets accomplished. That happens today. That’s why you need to take care of it. To best use my time correctly, there are five areas where I want to make sure I’m taking care of business: faith, family, relationships, mission and health. Am I Investing My Time with the Right People? A Question of ROI. The greatest legacy any leader can leave is the other leaders he raises up before he’s finished. That means finding the right people and investing in them continually. Socrates is quoted as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth leading.” I would add that the unexamined leader is not worth following. Leaders who never take time to ask what they are doing and why they doing it are unlikely to stay on track, lead at their best, and reach their potential. That is why we need to keep asking ourselves tough questions. l What Questions Do I Ask My Team Members? I want to give you a picture of leadership that is not commonly envisioned: It’s of a leader asking questions of team members and then really listening to what they have to say. Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more. What Do You Think? Mark Cole, CEO of my organizations, explains, “When you ask for my skills, you get my strengths. When you ask for my passion, you get my heart. When you ask for my ideas, you get my mind. But when you ask me for answers, you get my strengths, heart and mind.” How Can I Serve You? I believe leadership is servanthood. It’s my responsibility to make sure my people have what they need to succeed and get their work done. If you are a leader, that is your responsibility too. Asking, “How can I serve you?” not only helps others, it also helps prevent me from developing a positional mind-set whereby I start thinking I’m somehow “over” or better than everyone else on thhe team. What Do I Need to Communicate? Success in communication comes from knowing the context more than the content. When I ask this question, I’m not trying to find out what content to deliver. I’m trying to find out who the people are, what the situation is, what happened before I arrived to speak, and how I can connect and help. Did We Exceed Expectations? It’s not enough to simply finish a job. You need to perform it with excellence, without cutting any corners. Every time you bring something to completion, try to find out not only whether you were able to help, but how much you were able to help. If you make it your goal to exceed expectations, you can continue to learn, grow and improve. What Did You Learn? The question “What did you learn?” is not just for parents with impressionable children. It’s equally valuable in a work setting. I ask it all the time because it keeps my staff sharp and growing. It prompts people to evaluate their experience and make an assessment. And as I’ve often said, experience isn’t the best teacher — evaluated experience is. Did We Add Value? My desire in life is to add value to leaders who multiply value to others. That’s why I ask this question. How Do We Maximize This Experience? We too often take opportunities and experiences for granted and don’t make the most of them. That’s a shame, because everything we do for others and every experience we have has so much potential. By asking how we can maximize our experiences, we make the most of them. Anything less and we’re actually wasting parts of our lives. What Do I Need to Know? I often ask, “What do I need to know?” when I’m about to enter a meeting or engage in a phone call. It invites the team member to give me an overview of the situation, provide vital information, and prioritize what he or she believes will be most important. How Do We Make the Most of This Opportunity? The door to one opportunity often comes from another.
If you pursue an opportunity, it almost always leads to other opportunities. People who wait for the one great opportunity often keep waiting. The way to find the best opportunities is to pursue the one at hand. How Are the Numbers? Numbers count. They tell a story. They let you know what the score is. They show you where you’re winning and where you’re failing so you can make adjustments. They show trends. They reveal weaknesses. They are tangible evidence of how well you’re doing. What Am I Missing? Two of the fastest ways to connect with another person are to ask questions and to ask for help. Most people genuinely want to help others. And most people enjoy being an expert in their field and sharing their wisdom and experience. The only time these things don’t seem to be true is in an environment that discourages asking genuine questions and listening to honest answers. If you lead a team, start valuing the contributions of your teammates ahead of your own. And remember that when the best idea wins, so does the entire team.
PART II: QUESTIONS LEADERS ASK ME
What Must I Do to Lead Myself Successfully?
Many people understand intuitively that if you can’t lead yourself effectively, everything else in your life will be a struggle. Self-leadership comes first. It makes every other kind of leadership possible. That’s where personal credibility is established. Some of the challenges you face may come from the way you lead yourself. You may attribute them to someone or something else, when you actually need to look at yourself as the source. Why Does Leading Myself Seem More Difficult than Leading Others? We have blind spots preventing us from seeing where we have problems and fall short. What are blind spots? They are areas in which people continually fail to see themselves or their situation realistically. Everybody has some; few people recognize their own. While blind spots cause all people problems, they can be especially harmful in leaders. Because leaders influence others and their actions affect a team’s, department’s, or organization’s outcomes, the problems that come from their blind spots are exaggerated. The four most common and destructive blind spots among leaders include having a singular perspective, insecurity, an out-of-control ego and weak character. What Are the Most Important Values for a Leader? Here are the leadership values that I believe are most important: • Servanthood: Leading well means serving others. If you are willing to embrace servanthood, not only will you become a better leader, you will help your team, help the people your team serves, and make the world a better place. • Purpose: Let your why direct your what. Success comes from knowing your purpose in life, growing to your maximum potential, and sowing seeds to benefit others.
Integrity: Live the life before you lead others. When you become a leader, you must focus more on your responsibilities than on your rights. You must do more than you expect of others. If you live the life first and lead well, others will respect you. And the chances are good that they will be willing to follow you. • Relationships: Walk slowly through the crowd. Leadership impact is drawn not from position or title but from authentic relationships. How do you develop authentic relationships? You live with authenticity. You treat people with kindness and respect. And you go to where they are to connect with them. • Renewal: Replenish yourself daily. If you don’t make an effort to replenish your energy, feed your soul, and renew your mind, you will run out of gas. What Is the Most Effective Daily Habit for Any Leader to Develop? If you could cultivate only one habit to practice every day of your life, I believe it should be this: giving more than you receive. Giving acknowledges that others have helped us, and giving requires us to get beyond ourselves. Giving is by nature intentional. And giving changes the world — one person at a time. How Do You Lead with Humility When in the Tough Corporate World It’s Viewed as a Weakness? I think this question reveals a misconception about the corporate world. People in business don’t automatically see humility as weakness. They see weakness as weakness — weakness in preparation, skills, work ethic, etc. People who achieve at a high level of excellence can smell weakness. That brings up the question of what humility is. Humility doesn’t mean being weak. It just means thinking of yourself less. It means being realistic and grounded. It means valuing others and their contributions. People like working with a leader with those characteristics. l
How Does Leadership Work?
Leadership starts with influence and builds from there. Keep that in mind as you read these questions. Does Everyone Have the Potential to Be an Effective Leader? Everyone has the potential to lead on some level, and anyone can become better at leading. While it is true that some people are born with traits that help them to become better leaders than others, those natural traits are only the beginning. Three main components come into play in the development of a leader: Environment: the incarnation of leadership. Leadership is more caught than taught; Exposure: the inspiration for leadership. Plan to go hear someone you admire speak; and Equipping: Intention for Leadership. The one thing you can do to have the greatest impact on your leadership potential is to be intentional every day about becoming equipped to lead. Every book you read, every lesson you absorb, every principle you apply helps you to become a better leader and takes you another step forward in your leadership potential
What Is the Greatest Challenge in Answering the Call to Leadership? The greatest challenge in leadership is making decisions that affect other people. If you want to become a better leader, become willing to make tough choices and uncomfortable decisions. Those may include the following: courageous decisions: what must be done; priority decisions: what must be done first; change decisions: what must be done differently; creative decisions: what might be possible; people decisions: who should — and should not be — involved. What Are the Top Skills Required to Lead People T hrough Sustained Difficult Times? Tough times show us ourselves. The people we lead find out who they are. As leaders, we also find out what we’re made of. The best way to approach tough times is to try to see them as opportunities. Here is how I would recommend that you lead and serve people during difficult times: • Define Reality: As the leader of a team, you need to help people define the things that are holding them back. Then you need to define the things that will free them up. People cannot make good choices if they don’t know what these things are, and many have a hard time figuring them out on their own. • Remind Them of the Big Picture: Leaders are keepers and communicators of the vision. They bear the responsibility for always seeing the big picture and helping their people to see it. People need to be reminded of why they are doing what they do, and of the benefits that await them as a reward for their hard work. • Help Them Develop a Plan: Before you can develop a strategy to get out of a difficult situation, you must know where you are and where you want to go. The next task is to identify the steps required to go from here to there. Not everyone finds it easy to do that. • Help Them Make Good Choices: People’s choices define who they are and determine where they go. It’s true that we don’t choose everything we get in life, but much of what we get comes from what we’ve chosen. • Value and Promote Teamwork: No team can win and keep winning unless everyone works together. It’s the responsibility of leaders to promote teamwork and get team members cooperating and working together. • Give Them Hope: Crisis holds the opportunity to be reborn. Difficult times can discipline us to become stronger. Conflict can actually renew our chances of building better relationships. It’s not always easy to remember these things. As leaders, our job is to remind people of the possibilities and to help them succeed
How Do I Get Started in Leadership?
How you come into a leadership role matters less than how you handle it. And the key question you need to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to lead?” I ask that question of any person who says he wants to get into leadership. If you want to help other people, your team and your organization, you’re starting on the right foot. If your desire is to fulfill a worthy vision, one that will help people and make the world a better place, you’re headed in the right direction. If you’re doing it to add value to others and not just yourself, you are seeking to be a leader for the right reason. How Do You Determine Your Leadership Potential? Examine four areas to get a sense of whether it is time for you to step up and lead: 1. Pay attention to the need you see: Leadership begins with a need, not when someone wants to fill an empty leadership position. There are many needs in this world. Are there some that strike a chord in you? If you see a need that you feel a strong desire to address, and it moves you to action, that is a sign that you have the potential to lead in that area. 2. Use your natural abilities to help others: You have gifts, talents, and skills that you can use to help people. It is your responsibility to learn what those abilities are and develop them. If you’re not sure what they are, ask others who know you well. In addition, look at the areas where you are naturally intuitive, productive, satisfied and influential. 3. Make the most of your passion: Passion in a leader is compelling to others. People want to follow passionate leaders. It makes them want to jump on board and join them. 4. Develop your influence: If you want to lead , you must persuade people to work with you. People who think they’re leading but have no one following them are only taking a walk. What Advice Would You Give to an Aspi iring Leader Trying to Take the First Steps into Leadership? Try to take the long view of leadership. If you work hard, learn how to connect with people, develop credibility, and prove yourself every day, after a while people will begin to believe in you. You will have influence, and you will be able to get things done. Try not to worry too much about what people think about you. Do your best Work hard. Keep growing. And eventually you’ll be able to make a positive impact as a leader
How Do I Resolve Conflict and Lead Challenging People?
This is one of the most difficult areas for most leaders. You can do all the right things, but there is no guarantee others will change, succeed, or do well. People who do not want to follow or be productive members of the team will not change. And that doesn’t make you a bad leader. It just means you have someone who’s bad for the team and organization. How Can Leaders Help Individuals Move Past Their Mistakes and Get on a Path of Success Toward a Better Future? Many people get emotionally stuck when they make a mistake or suffer a loss. They often become overwhelmed by regret. If the regret takes hold for too long, it can turn into guilt, resentment, and self-pity. When we experience losses, we need to learn from them and let them go. If we focus on the loss instead, it can bring us down. Some losses require time because they cut deeply. We need to grieve. We need time to heal. But many small losses and problems don’t warrant much energy. Most of the time we need to learn the lesson from the loss, and then move on. Help people to think about what they can do right, put energy into healing, increase self-reliance, gain hope, and move forward toward the future. How Do You Inspire Your Team to Make Its Current Work a Career and Something to Be Proud to Do, and Not Just Another Job with a Paycheck? No job has a future. Only people have a future. If people keep growing, learning and expanding their potential, their future is bright. If not, it’s uncertain at best. That’s why I often remind people that the greatest threat to tomorrow’s success is today’s success.Share your passion. A leader’s passion is contagious. Paint a picture of people’s future that inspires them to work harder today. Tell them who they can become. Show them what they could be someday doing. Show how their role makes a difference. Finally, challenge them to keep growing. People who make growth their goal — instead of a title, position, salary, or other external target — always have a future. How Do You Know a Relationship Is Broken, and How Can You Save It? These are the most common signs: It’s hard to have an honest conversation. If you tryto start one, the other person will refuse to engage, or become defensive or combative. There’s a lack of trust, and there’s a lack of passion to continue the relationship. Your goal should be to repair the relationship, but to do it with integrity. Here’s what I think it takes to do that: Initiate fixing the relationship with them. It’s hard to rescue a relationship if you don’t take responsibility for initiating. Give them the benefit of the doubt. I always go into that conversation assuming that I’ve done something wrong. I’ve discovered that if there’s hope for helping a relationship come back, the conversation goes better if I’m open and willing to take the blame. It’s difficult to move forward with relational baggage weighing you down. Be willing to walk the second mile. In relationships, I believe the stronger person is the first one to come back and offer to reconcile. The stronger person is the first to ask for forgiveness. Usually that’s the leader. Even if the leader has been the injured party, he needs to initiate. Speak well of them afterward. After I’ve talked to people and tried to resolve whatever issues we’ve had, my goal is to have no unfinished business with them. Whether we resolved the issues and mended the relationship, or had to part ways, I don’t want there to be any kind of grudge between us, and I want to say only positive things about them.
How Can I Succeed Working Under Poor Leadership?
Bad bosses often shirk their responsibilities and try to place them on the follower — on you — and you end up carrying the load. Whenever this happens, as far as it’s possible, you should attempt to ask questions of your leader in such a way that the responsibility goes back on his or her shoulders where it belongs. How Would You Work with a Difficult Leader Who Lacks Vision? Without vision, leaders lack the ability to convey motivation, drive and purpose to their people. If you are going to stay and work under a leader who lacks vision, what can you do? • Tap into the organization’s larger vision: When the vision of the organization is clear, the vision of any individual leader, team or department within the organization should contribute to that larger vision anyway. It should work within that context. • Identify a vision for the organization, and share it with your leader: If you do this, just be sure that the vision is consistent with the values and goals youknow your leader possesses. If it’s not, your leader will probably not welcome it. • Develop your own sense of purpose: You cannot allow your leader’s lack of vision to keep you from making progress in life. Connect with and develop your own purpose. As long as you are doing work consistent with it, you won’t be as bothered by your leader’s lack of vision for the organization. You will just need to be certain that you are doing what you were created to do. How Would You Work with a Difficult Leader Who Has Attitude and Character Problems? One of the great dangers in working for leaders who have attitude and character problems is that they are continually trying to drag you down to wherever they are. Bad attitudes are contagious.If you are determined to stay in such an environment, the best thing you can try to do is lift people to a higher level. First, live on a higher level yourself. One of your goals as a leader and person should always be to be a positive influence on others in the critical areas of attitude and character. Second, if you’ve done your best to help your leaders but you start to feel their influence negatively affecting your attitude or values, separate yourself from them as much as you can. Finally, if you can’t leave right away or if you need to stay for some reason, put as much communication as you can in writing. You will want to be able to show evidence of your right-doing if at some point your boss is accused of wrongdoing. l
How Can I Successfully Navigate Leadership Transitions? Life means transition. Most people intuitively understand that the world is moving fast, yet they still have a difficult time with it. Brian Tracy was right when he said, “In a time of rapid change, standing still is the most dangerous course of action.” If you don’t learn how to make good transitions, you either get run over or get left behind. When Is the Right Time for a Successful Leader to Move On to a New Position? Leaders often get restless. When they do, they start exploring opportunities and new mountains to climb. The key to knowing whether it’s time to transition is recognizing that there are two kinds of restlessness: good and bad. Good restlessness is healthy. It pulls you forward toward improvement. It comes from your desire to grow, to make a greater impact, to serve others more effectively. Bad restlessness comes from being bored or unhappy. It comes from a desire to escape. It causes you to be impa tient. You often jump out of where you are, but not to anything specific. And as a result, it can actually put you in a worse place. Ask yourself whether you have given the best you have where you are now. Don’t move anywhere else until you have. Don’t seek a move just to make things easier on yourself. To transition with integrity, you need to have done your best work possible. Then you can leave with a clear heart and mind. What Leadership Principles Enable a Failed Leader to Lead Again Successfully? If you’ve failed as a leader and lost your position, you need to consider the following before attempting to return to leadership: Evaluation: What went wrong? Before you can move back into a leadership role, you need to fix whatever problems you have in your leadership. You can’t do that if you don’t know what they are. Where did you go wrong? Was it a mistake in strategy? Did you lack skills necessary for good leadership? Do your problems stem from poor self-leadership? Emotional strength: Can you bounce back? If you’ve failed, you need to be able to face your failure, own up to it and process it emotionally. And you also need to regain your footing and rebuild your emotional strength and resilience before you try to lead others again. Evolution: Can you make the adjustments needed for future success? You need to make the changes in yourself to set you up for future success. Maybe you need to put yourself on a personal growth plan whereby you read a dozen books and attend some conferences. Maybe you need to seek counseling to help you with character issues. Maybe you need to find a mentor. Maybe you need to further your education
How Can I Develop Leaders? If you want to make an impact on your world, you must help others to become better leaders. How Do You Help People Realize the Talent Within Them? Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of leadership is seeing people with hope believe in themselves, develop themselves, and blossom into effective leaders. If you desire to help your people do that, proceed in this way: Find evidence that they want to grow: People worthy of your time and attention have a learning attitude. They’re open to instruction and hungry to grow. They may not yet be convinced that they can reach what you recognize as their potential, but they have the desire. And they are already making an effort to grow
Identify their strengths: The people you lead may not know what they’re good at. As a leader you need to help people figure out where they have potential and should grow. Give them a place to practice. Training is good. Mentoring is fantastic. Development is incredible. But if you don’t give emerging leaders a place to practice, their knowledge will never become practical experience. Coach them to improvement. People always learn more from their failures than they do from their successes. Walk alongside them to give them security and to help them through the most difficult problems. Share with them where they made mistakes and how they can overcome them. Tell them what to work on. And encourage them to keep trying. Keep increasing their responsibilities. Allow your leaders to benefit from your experience until they are capable of doing your job. That takes security on your part. But if you do that, when it comes time for you to move up to greater responsibility or move on to a new challenge, you will have people who can step in and take your place. What’s the Most Important Thing a Leader Must Learn in Order to Be a Leader of Leaders? There’s only one way to lead leaders. Become a better leader yourself. Good leaders do not follow poor ones. People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. So if you want to be a leader of leaders, you will need to earn the right. You will need to achieve success first. You’ll need to keep raising your leadership capacity. You’ll need to make growth a major goal and dedicate yourself to it. And you’ll also have to keep your ego in check. If you have a compulsive need to be the alpha dog, the other top dogs won’t want to work with you.No leader can know everything, be an expert in everything or do everything. It takes a team to be successful. As you move forward, remember that good leaders ask great questions. They may not always know the answers, but they are made better simply by asking them.
(The author: John C. Maxwell is a number one New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in 50 languages. He is the founder of the John Maxwell Company, the John Maxwell Team and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 180 countries. He was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell. Copyright © 2014 by John C. Maxwell. Summarized by permission of the publisher, Center Street, New York, New York. 320 pages, $26.00, ISBN 978-145-5548071. . Summary copyright ©2014 by Soundview Executive Book Summaries www. summary.com, 1-800-SUMMARY. For more information on the author, go to summary.com or JohnMaxwell.com.)
If you liked Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, you’ll also like: 1. Winning with People by John C. Maxwell. With 25 “People Principles” that anyone can learn, Maxwell shows how relationships can be created and strengthened for success in work and life, 2. The 5 Levels of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. Maxwell details each level of leadership and provides a clear path to reach the next. 3. The 360 Degree Leader by John C. Maxwell. According to Maxwell, you can learn to develop your influence from wherever you are in the organization by becoming a 360-degree leader.