The Right Questions

You just finished briefing your boss on the latest proposal. You and your team spent hours hashing over details. You ensured you presented the big picture, highlighting critical points for understanding. You ask for questions and find your boss has plenty. schoolofathens.jpgYou wonder where you went wrong. The truth is you did a great job. Your boss understands the importance of asking critical questions about everything in the organization. The knows to verify things that appear to be one thing to ensure they are not something else. With experience, the boss learned the right questions to ask related to a host of issues and situations.

Using questions to stimulate discussion and analysis has been called the Socratic Methodi. The questions focus on learning information in areas of interest for the questioner. Quality answers are supported by proof in the form of an accepted fact, expectations based on analysis, data from test results, or another accepted proof. Challenging proof and conclusions occur next in the Socratic Method.

Puzzle-OlgaBerrlos.jpgSocratic questions that stimulate discussion and analysis may include:

– What is the risk related to that decision?

– How do we reduce the risk?

– What proof exists to demonstrate risk reduction?

– What impact will the decision have on … ?

– How does the organization deal with that impact?

– What other ideas did you explore and why were they not presented?

– What is the most important consideration and why?

– Are there examples of following a course from history; if so, what happened and why?

– What are your measures of success and how did you determine those measures?

– What are the costs in terms of money, influence, credibility, etc.?

These are only ten possible questions inspiring critical discussions and analysis issues or topics. They are a starting point. Use critical thinking questions to test your theories before presenting an idea to others. Ask someone to challenge your assessments with the Socratic Method. The more you practice, the better your assessments. Your ability improves by responding to challenging questions asked by others.

Experienced leaders develop core questions used in every analysis. Core questions stand the test of uncovering important information repeatedly. Experienced leaders develop questions for particular situations. Sometimes they are developed as the situation unfolds or come from preconfigured questions developed for different situations.

PuzzleSolved-OlgaBerrlos-mod.jpgWhether you are developing a course of action to market a new product, or deciding where to go on your next vacation, learning to ask the right questions helps you make better decisions. Questions that challenge conventional thinking allow decision makers to identify alternative courses of action and determine if they would be effective. Allowing others to challenge your conclusions with Socratic questioning improves your logical thinking. As you step into your next leadership position, or prepare a briefing for the boss, take time to think about questions to uncover the best solution to any situation.

Endnote

ihttp://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/socratic-teaching/606

Photo Credits

School of Athens by Raphael, 1509-1511 – photo by Frans Vandewalle from Flickr.com

Puzzle Pieces by Olga Berlos from Flickr.com

Puzzle Assembled ibid (modified by author)

Measuring Success

Measured-Michael_Coghlan.jpgTrainers and leaders need to measure success. Measures of success demonstrate the organization does things correctly and does the correct things. Trained tasks support the organizational mission, the organization’s why. Trainers measure performance and leaders measure effectiveness. Understanding the difference ensures organizations correctly apply the correct measures to tasks by the right people.

Performance measures are those things that show we are doing something correctly. Examples include demonstrations of completing a task within a set of given guidelines, passing a test demonstrating knowledge of selected ideas, or achieving a certain result we believe leads to effectiveness. All these examples show the task is being performed correctly. These are the measures a trainer uses to demonstrate tasks are understood and performed correctly. Front line leaders use measures of performance to demonstrate assigned tasked meet defined standards.

Effectiveness measures are those things that show the organization is accomplishing its mission. Effectiveness is harder than performance to measure because organizations often have poorly defined missions. Effectiveness comes down to an individual or organization being able to focus on their one reason for existing. Examples of effectiveness measures include things like changes in behavior favorable to the organization, increased trust between employees, customer loyalty, or improvement in a given condition. Measures of effectiveness demonstrate mission accomplishment by the organization.

Organizations must understand and communicate why they exist in order to be able to measure effectiveness. Jim Collins talks about businesses that learn how to laser on their purpose for existence. Great businesses last because they were designed well in the beginning, or transform to meet changing times. There are many books that talk about the importance of why including Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, and Stephen Covey’s First Things First.  Senior leaders use measures of performance to determine success when the organization meets its mission.

As leaders and trainers measure success, they need to learn how to measure both performance of individual and collective tasks, but also the effectiveness of those tasks. Everyone may be doing everything well, but if they are doing the wrong things, they fail. Knowing which measures to use and when help organizations ultimately complete their mission. Find your why; determine what an how to achieve it, then measure your success.

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Photo Credit

Measured by Michael Coghlan from flickr.com under a Creative Commons License

Leadership Reflection

Reflection-Theophilos_Papadopoulos.jpgReflecting on past mistakes and successes teaches leaders how to adjust behaviors improving successful.  Few new leaders understand the importance of reflection.  As a result they do not understand which traits lead to success so they can repeat them, nor which actions impede them preventing them from avoiding similar actions in the future.  Leaders achieve effective reflection by following some easy steps.

Record what happen.  In another piece, I described how and why to conduct post event reviews (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/review-action-record-results-learn/).  Another example of recording what happened is a leadership journal.  Use a few minutes every day to write down something you learned, someone you helped, how someone helped you, an important task you must accomplish, or anything else you feel you may want to remember.

Document how you can use what you recorded.  Think about and write down ways to modify your behaviors to improve success.  How you can implement a lesson learned?  Decide which behaviors you helped another person.  Identify behaviors of others that were both effective and not effective.

Path-J-O_Eriksson.jpgPeriodically review your reflections to adjust your course.  Taking time to figure out where you are is an important step in the goal achieving cycle.  Reviewing things you allows you to consider the path to achieve a goal.  You may see a lesser traveled trail is more effective.  You may realize a new behavior provides access to the express lane.  Either way failing to apply what you learn unnecessarily lengthens time of achievement.

Recording reflections on successes and mistakes allows leaders to become more effective.  Using a leadership journal is one way new leaders can improve their reflective skills.  Writing down key ideas on your journey ensures they are captured for future use.  These lessons and ideas help leaders adjust course seeking to accomplish goals.  A few simple steps, and a little bit of time, allows improvement of success for leaders through reflection.

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Photo Credits

All Photos are from flickr.com under a Creative Commons license.

Reflection by Theophilos Papadapoulos

Path by J-O Eriksson

 

Review Action. Record Results. Learn.

Nat-Grd-TownMeeting-NGB.jpgTake time to review actions at the end of project or events. This action enables leaders apply lessons learned the next time. The military thoroughly reviews and documents actions after every key event. As they begin their next planning cycle, leaders revisit those reviews to identify how to apply lessons learned to repeat effective actions and avoid repeating mistakes. Learning to analyze an event and gather important lessons is easy.

There are several principals to conduct post event reviews. Have all the key people at the table. Honestly document what was supposed to happen and what really happened. Analyze why the things that went well went well, and poorly; and why those things happened that way. Participant judge events, not people. Check egos at the door. File the review so it can be found and used later.

All the Key People OutdoorMeeting-USAID.jpg

Key people does not mean everyone unless the event was small. Key people include the crucial leaders, contractors, organizers, observers, and key people from your red team. You want the people there who have the ability to make decisions during a similar future event that affect outcomes.

Document What Happened

This sounds simple but is not always easy. During this step top leaders may learn what

they wanted to happen is not what others understood was supposed to happen.  When you talk about what was supposed to happen, you may have to break it down into several levels. What really happened is also not so easy. Not everyone saw the same thing for a variety of reasons.WhatHappened.png Things may have gone well in their part of the project because the logistics section fixed a problem before others know about it. If others did not see it, the problem still existed and should be documented and analyzed.

Analyze

Analysis during the review is nothing more than answering a bunch of relevant questions. What went well and why? What problems cropped up and why? How well did communications work? How did leaders make decisions at critical times? How well did the decision making process work? How did leaders solve problems? What things went well that could have gone better? How can we prevent the wrong things from happening in the future? These questions are just an example series, but a good start to any analysis.

Judging

When judging good, bad, success, and failure, focus on events and decisions, not people. If a leader made a poor choice at a key event examine why. The group may learn the leader lack important information, or had a poor understanding of the situation. PieJudge-Sarah R.jpgFocusing on why the leader made the decision allows him to learn from mistakes, identifies potential problems in processes outside that leader’s control and reduces defensiveness improving learning.

Egos

People do not like criticism. The offense perceived is proportional the size of the ego. The learning from observations that look like criticism is inversely proportional to the size of the ego. Avoid the problem; check egos at the door. This rule needs to be posted and enforced by the group facilitator. When an individual becomes defensive during discussions related to decisions or actions she made, it is an indicator she brought her ego with her. Stop the conversation. Restate the rules. Focus on the actions or decisions. These measures ensure maximum participation and learning occurs.

File the Review

File post activity reviews so others can find and learn from them. Taking time to review and identify lessons achieves nothing if filed forever. Dig out those reviews when you begin the next project planning cycle and learn.

A post activity review is an important process in any learning organization. Conduct reviews with all the key players after every major event or project. Identify what was supposed to happen and what really happened. Analyze the good and the bad of each event, action, and decision during the activity to identify important lessons. Judge decisions and actions to avoid offending and shut down learning. Check egos at the door to ensure everyone learns and participates. Adding a review at the end of every project or training event ensures lessons learned are available for use when a similar activity occurs next time.

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Photo Credits

All photos were found on flickr.com and used under a Creative Commons License.

Capture

U.S. Government photo-National Guard Bureau

U. S. government photo-USAID

Cars: Modified from two photos.  Limo by caccamo.  Small Car by Hsing Wel

Pie Judges by Sarah R

 

Organizational Artifacts

Organizational Culture

Modified Jug_by-NikitaAvvakumovCompanies carefully develop and vigorously safeguard their corporate logos and trademarks because the leaders understand the importance of brand. Logos speak for the company, what it makes, and stands for. Some trademarks become terms for common items, actions, or a range of products. Years ago people would Xerox a copy when they wanted a photocopy. Everybody had a Frigidaire even if their refrigerator was a Whirlpool. Today if you want to find out some piece of information, you Google it. Mention these names or show their logos and people create a vision of excellence in each of those industries. The trademark is the company and people know the values of each. Artifacts, such as logos and trademarks, are the visible representations of an organization’s culture and values. Other aspects of artifacts include customs, traditions, celebrations, buildings, and attire. Leaders can use artifacts to change behaviors of stakeholders to align with desired values.

Back in the day, families had coats of arms that contained symbols representing significance accomplishments from the past, the region of origin, and tools of their trades. Military organizations thrive on the symbolism of their unit crests. Good leaders understand the qualities shown in organizational symbols and use them to provide a common bond for all stakeholders. The symbols and traditions create a unification for all those involved in the organization.

The terms blue collar and white collar demonstrate how artifacts affect perception. Mention blue collar worker to someone and they probably envision a person working on a factory floor, working in an automotive repair facilities, or dumping waste cans after the office closes. White collar workers are viewed as those working in clean environments such as offices, hospitals, or laboratories. Blue collar workers have GEDs or high school diplomas. White collar workers have college degrees, have offices higher in the building relative to their perceived power. These statements are not necessarily true as there are plenty of people holding traditionally blue collar jobs with high levels of education, and many office workers with high school diplomas.

Ceremonies and customs are other artifacts that show the world and stakeholders where an organization places value. Organizations that toss their new employees to the wolves with little training demonstrate they value people less than accomplishment. Those who celebrate small successes show they care when people succeed and understand that when an individual succeeds, everyone in the organization is better because of the achievement.

A smart leader seeking to change an organization’s culture can use artifacts to help that change occur. He can point to the symbols of a logo to talk about the important values of the organization. He describes how certain behaviors emulate the organizational values while others detract. He eliminates ceremonies celebrating negative achievements that belittle and embarrass, and replaces them with rituals observing feats supporting desired behaviors. Awards for compliance with desired organizational values serve as visual representations of success and encourage others to model similar behavior. Employee of the month is one example, but a creative leader finds other ways to also provide visual cues.

Understanding organizational culture is a critical leadership skill. Knowing how symbols, ceremonies, and traditions creates certain behaviors enabling leaders to change artifacts to encourage behaviro changes. If something runs counter to a professed value, it is shed. Leaders adopt new artifacts that support behaviors aligned with desired values. Take a look around your work place. What do the dress, visible symbols, behaviors, and traditions say to someone walking in for the first time about what is valued? Change those that subvert what you want others to think of you and your organization, and replace them with artifacts that show the character you seek to achieve.


Photo Credit

Nakita Avvakumov https://www.flickr.com/photos/drnik/2857646470/in/photolist-5mwbJJ-6bXTAW-cWNuEG-ogb2uP-6bXUYC-74auQQ-bjUuLa-dfPbpg-BsuyfJ-8eCvnt-ogstHx-dMZSDL-2A6cFN-E1JUTs-67mS86-ATUtr2-9euKg7-uLhc-57xfTs-Bz4NEy-PZP2PQ-5V9AWA-c7hjWf-wMfExB-QvqyfS-MGFg37-N6NaAj-PZP3zh-NncCAS-zEmsYi-QkEA9Q-ManQ54-N2jNX8-KdZwbq-MCHQ11-MEWtdK-S35rzb-S35rnC-QU9tXK-S35rfd-ExDU2b-622Hms-S5FNVK-RXKgGM-T2GiWi-kHLLyN-RoViju-qyFLP4-r2BLQg-6iE95L Creative Common License

Finding the Path

“No!” replied the client and hung up.

“I quit!” said Bill out loud. “I haven’t made a sale all day.”cubical-drewfromzhrodague

Jill, Bill’s big boss, happened to be passing his cubical as he announced his intent to terminate his employment, or at least sales calls for the day. “Bill,” said Jill, “We don’t quit. If you are having problems, I expect you to find a way to over come them. Getting to YES is an important principal of our division. I want you to spend the rest of the afternoon examining what what you have been doing and work with your team leader to figure out what you can improve. Both of you will report to my office in the morning with your findings.” Jill did not wait for a response. She turned and left. When she returned to her office, she called Bill’s team leader and told her about Bill’s problem and her expectations for corrective action.”

Jill said, “Getting to yes is an important principal.” She did not scold Bill for breaking a rule, but rather for failing to comply with a guiding principal. Guiding principals liberate leaders and employees from restrictive rules that require and prohibit behaviors by establishing clear boundaries, not rules. Employees operate within their boundaries established by guiding principals without fear of breaking some arcane rule. Employees use the principals to break the molds of past successes improving the organization. Sometimes people make mistakes, but in principle based organizations, leaders allow people to learn from errors, reorient themselves, and continue on the path to success. Guiding principles establish boundaries, not specific routes, for people to travel to achieve successful outcomes.

In the example at the beginning of this post, Bill probably violated several rules in his organization. Jill elected to call out Bill for violating a principle instead. According to Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “A rules-based organization is a safe place to work…because as long as you follow the rules, you’re never going to be criticized. You go to the General Counsel for each opinion, so you never have to take any personal risk.”1   boundry-jesse_loughborough Rules tell each employee what to do and what not to do in a given situation. The problem with rules is no organization can write a rule for every situation, and organizations like the VA have tried. Often rules conflict in a given situation. When faced with a situation not covered by a rule, or one where the rules provide conflicting guidance, people have to make decisions. That is why guiding principles are necessary.

Guiding principals, sometimes called values, are a short list of ideas that establish behaviors for employees to accomplish the organizational mission regardless of the situation. In some organizations, they establish their guiding principals a single words like, duty, honor, country. Others may use short phrases like, get to yes, respect all stake holders, continually improve. Organizational leaders boil down ideas until only those most important remain. An area cannot be established with less than three points. More than seven and people will not remember the principals; the area is too large.

The following morning Bill and his team leader Jane were waiting outside Jill’s office when she arrived. After being invited into her office, Bill explained to Jill that he and Jane spent the afternoon reviewing his sales pitches. They discussed some small improvements he could make to be more effective. Jane told Jill that she would check in with Bill a couple times in the next week to review his progress and make additional refinements to help him get to yes. Bill said, “I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when I need it to deal with frustrations.” Jill smiled. Bill’s outburst helped her develop Jane’s leadership skills and Bill’s sales skills. Had she just reprimanded Bill for disturbing other sales representatives, neither Bill nor Jane would have grown.

Leaders who use guiding principals establish markers to follow allowing freedom of choice cairns-sean_munson.jpginstead of rules that fence in options. Guiding Principals develop effective organizations. They create a climate for employees and junior leaders to safely take risks within established areas. Leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities for the employee and others. Employees respond to increased trust by finding improved ways to accomplish the organization’s mission. All stakeholders receive the results they expected. By using guiding principals, people find their own route to success within establish boundaries. Now is a great time to review your organization’s principals and determine how you can improve them for increased success in the coming year.


Footnote


Photo credits

Cubical: Drew from Zhrodague from Flickr.com

Fence: Jesse Loughborough from Flickr.com

Cairns:  Sean Munson from Flicker.com

All used under Creative Commons Licenses.

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Depth on the Leadership Bench

Everyone recognized Sally and Bill were great leaders. Sally led of her group for six years. Bill ran his group for two years under Sally’s leadership. Sally groomed Bill in the preceding year to replace her. After she moved on, Bill easily assumed the leadership position and started looking for his replacement.teambench-fraser-mummery Developing employees into leaders prepares organizations for both attrition and unexpected opportunities. Both Bill and Sally understood the importance of developing their next leaders for continued organizational growth and sustainment of excellence.

Many supervisors are managers rather than leaders. They are not entirely to blame. Often they were never taught how to be leaders. Why should anyone expect them to be able to teach others how to lead. Managers manage resources; leaders lead people. If an organization only views their employees as resources, they manage rather than lead them. The result is poor performance, crisis after crisis, failure to complete projects, customer dissatisfaction, and lack of growth. Failing to groom today’s managers to become leaders begins a downward spiral in leadership. Supervisors who are not exposed to leadership principals cannot pass them down to their rising stars and the bench becomes weaker.

Organizations choosing to develop leaders sometimes loose rising stars to other organizations because of the lessons they learned. Often those leaders stay even when offered more money or other incentives. They recognize organizations that value leadership through training have more to offer than money. When one star moves on, the boss turns to the bench to replace the loss. Organizations that teach leadership never have a shortage of qualified leaders. They are always looking two or three levels down selecting and training their future leaders. They have depth on the bench so the loss of one quality person does not cripple the rest of the organization. These organizations recognize developing future leaders is the most important thing they do.

leaderropes-nelohotsumaOne up and coming leader recognized the importance of developing young leaders. He examined everything the new guys and gals needed to know. He recognized it would take hundreds of hours to teach them everything. He faced a choice to move forward teaching a little at a time, or to become overwhelmed by the size of the task and quit. He decided to start small, directing three of his proteges to read an article on leadership. The following week he brought them to lunch to discuss what they learned and what ways they could apply those lessons to their own activities.

At the end of the meeting, the manager handed out three copies of the latest book on leadership theory. He challenged them all to read it in a month and gave them a date for their next lunch together. He assigned one of the younger rising stars to facilitate the next discussion. Over the course of the month, the manager met with the young woman to check her reading progress. He taught her how to facilitate the discussion at the next meeting. She did a great job resulting in the other two employees begging for a chance to run the next session. Before long, the manager’s leader development program was recognized across the organization as a model for success. Soon the leader and his followers each were selected for other leadership assignments. The big boss looked at the bench and picked someone to replace each of them and continue the cycle one little step at a time.

Leadership development can be as simple or complected as one wants to make it. Starting slowly allows the organization and its current leaders to find what works. Whether you train your people or not, some stay and some accept other opportunities. Training your future leaders today ensures your bench has depth for the future. When one person leaves, you can bet there will be someone waiting to step up to the challenge knowing they will have the training and support necessary to succeed. In order to experience continued organizational growth and sustainment of excellence, organizations must develop their next level leaders’ skills to develop depth on their bench.

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Photo Credits:

1BN Boxing Team-Fraser Mummery from http://www.flickr.com/photos/73014677@N05/8491853894/in/photolist-dWoYj3-nP6dus-eTVQZn-nFA2Z9-88jr2T-8TLXPF-dUdUqs-9LsNd7-dU8iYa-dUdQwC-n5kvSj-8YcqLU-a1YCNe-dU8cMD-4n4HcF-4CPZhg-eaFCpK-dPgkkg-fCdH6m-fEfvJu-nFFVgg-5KAmwB-8ktTwC-e36jea-hE5oza-49HGS-fAzYDB-4CUy9J-bempLr-8kqWBn-nP7dAM-f7HJ24-8RF5To-rv5yd-dU8jjk-a2QE3r-8tihQC-GYc1M-9uwcTm-dUdQ5Y-oL3fTH-dU8hia-8ku5Rw-8kqUgt-ahCwjp-aVheZ-dM7t9r-Bo2Y4E-fCWz4n-deEtb9 cropped by author

 

Both photos used under Creative Commons license