vendredi 15 décembre 2006

questions leaders need to answer

it that in today’s chaotic business environment,
many still cling to the belief that having a mediocre answer
is better than having a good question? Why is it that after
millions of books on leadership have been purchased (and
hopefully some have actually been read), people expect lead-
ers to tell rather than ask? I don’t know, but I can live with
not knowing.
For the last several years I’ve made it my business to
become comfortable being the one who always asks ques-
tions. I can’t pinpoint what caused me to change my focus
from expert answerer to skilled questioner, but I can report on the
results. People think I’m smarter, more insightful, and nicer. This
chapter is an attempt to help you, a leader, to become a better ques-
tioner. The first part of this book has provided the opportunity to
learn and practice questions you can use to become known in your
organization as a different kind of leader. Now I’d like you to think
about answering questions. It occurs to me that after reading this,
you might have a question for me. “Chris, just as you convinced me
that the role of the leader is about asking good questions, now you’re
saying that I have to have the answers. I’m confused.” I’m tempted
to push your buttons and remind you that a moment of great con-
fusion is often the springboard for great creativity and learning, but
I won’t. I’ll answer instead.
There is a difference between leaders who spend their time
telling people what to do, think, or feel and leaders who create an
environment where followers ask thoughtful questions and the lead-
ers know which ones they should answer. The more questions you
ask, the more questions you should expect. This is a good time to
add to your skill set.
People will ask you, with varying motives, the question What do
you think? A moment’s thought before answering this question is a
good idea. If it is more important for the questioner to state their
opinions and understanding, the leader will answer with another
question: More importantly, what do you think? This technique isn’t
about evading a question; it’s about challenging the questioner to
express themselves in an area of their responsibility and expertise.
On the other hand, if the What do you think? question is a genuine
attempt to learn a point of view or tap into a wealth of expertise, the astute leader will answer, adopting the role of educator.
This chapter is designed to help you think through questions that
you as a leader may be asked to answer. They’re not all the ques-
tions you’ll be asked. In fact, they’re questions seldom asked in most
workplaces. These are questions that go beyond the superficial; they
ask, in effect, “Who are you and why should I follow you?” They’re
questions about values and concerns. They have underlying mes-
Questions bring us back to
human contact.
—Dorothy Leeds,
communications consultant
sages; people will have a hard time asking them. Don’t kid yourself.
Even though people haven’t asked them out loud, they’ve asked
these questions silently and determined an answer for you as they
watched your behavior. By creating a questioning culture, you’ll
have the opportunity to actually answer them yourself.
But, even more important, these are significant questions you
should be asking yourself. Take the challenge!
51. What do you see happening in our organi-
zation over the next twelve months?
It’s the vision thing. In my favorite leadership book, The Leadership
Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, the authors
remind leaders that it is their job to imagine things for their orga-
nizations that are beyond the ordinary. That’s why people ask this
kind of question. It is their attempt to understand, clarify, and get
excited about their future. If they can’t get an answer from their
leaders, they feel lost, adrift, and frightened.
I’ve sat in more leadership team meetings than I care to remem-
ber during which the leaders asserted how impossible it was for
them to answer this question. Their excuses were many. “The
things that are happening are confidential.” “Once we get things
turned around, we’ll have time for this philosophy stuff.” “The
competition is killing us; we may not have a future.” “We don’t have
a clue.” These are the responses of leaders who are using their titles
under false pretenses. Even with the constraints of confidentiality,
can’t you say something? How will you turn things around if you
don’t know what direction you’re facing? Why shouldn’t we engage
our entire team in dialogue to help us understand and beat the
competition? How can you not have a clue? Leaders have to talk
about the future. All the time. At every opportunity.
What happens during your leadership team meetings? Maybe
it’s time for you to discuss this question together. Whether you’re
the team leader or a member, bring it up for conversation. If you
lead from the middle of the organization, gather your peers and
talk. Too often, everyone assumes that these issues are the respon-
sibility of the organization’s real leader. Nothing is further from
the truth. Real leaders exist at all levels of the organization, and
the visions they have need to be part of the ongoing dialogue
about the future.
After you have become known as a leader who thinks, talks, and
cares about the future, start turning this question back to the peo-
ple who ask it of you. Help them understand that they help the orga-
nization and themselves when they share what they know from their
unique perspective.
It will not undermine your credibility as a leader if you talk about
your vision for the future based on what you know today and revise
your view when circumstances change—as long as you include the
changing circumstances along with your revised vision for the
future. It will enhance your credibility as a leader if you identify the
unshakable values that will guide your own and the organization’s
behavior, no matter what the future brings. It will focus and uplift
your organization if you talk about things beyond the ordinary each
time this question is asked.
52. What is the future of our industry?
I’ve always understood the expression “Can’t see the forest for the
trees.” It wasn’t till I moved to northern Wisconsin that I realized
not everyone does understand it. It’s easy, in this land of wonderful
woods, to miss the beautiful expanse as you focus on one scruffy
pine—wondering why someone hasn’t pruned it. The same thing
happens at work.
People get caught in the daily cycle of “Write the to-do list, work
on the to-do list,” and get frustrated by how many things remain on
the to-do list at the end of the day. It would be silly to expect that
cycle to be anything but a permanent part of our work life. There
will always be more tasks than there is time. There will always be
interruptions that usually end up dumping more tasks on our desks.
Fast isn’t fast enough. Remember when you could blame things on
the post office? Overnight delivery services, fax machines, and e-
mail technologies have changed forever what we mean when we say,
“I’ll do it right away.” More than ever, we need someone to help us
break the cycle of tasks and encourage us to see beyond the day-to-
day. Leaders are those people.
Most employees don’t have the opportunity to attend trade
association meetings or have access to and the time to read indus-
try forecasts, but they need the information obtained by doing
both. That’s where you come in. As a leader it is your job to
understand the bigger picture. How does your organization fit
into your industry? How do you rank against your competition?
What changes are affecting the way you and your competition will
do business in the future? You need to know these things in order
to make wise decisions and chart a course into the future. The
people at all levels of your organization need to know these
things, too. They need to know so they have a better context for
understanding management decisions. So they can help customers
understand changes in policies and practices. So they can think
about their own future. So they have hope.
People get so focused on the task in front of them (the next
deadline, the next round of budget cuts) that they seldom lift their
heads to look at the big picture. It is in the bigger picture that we
can find the hope that will lift us out of daily despair. If you want
to call yourself a leader, you should know about the bigger picture,
so talk about it.
53. What gets you excited about the future?
Have you ever known anyone who’s had a brush with death? People’s
reactions vary, but most often they seem to walk away from the expe-
rience vowing to make every minute count. They realize there are
no guarantees when it comes to the future, and that’s okay as long
as they are taking advantage of the present. They greet each piece
of the future they’re given with joy for the opportunity to experi-
ence it. They are excited on purpose. Leaders have a responsibility
to show people how to view the future with excitement without hav-
ing to cope with a near-death experience.
So, what does get you excited about the future? I remember sit-
ting at the dinner table as a child with my brother, mom, and dad.
Our family was, in so many ways, a TV family of the ‘60s. We had
dinner together almost every night and talked about all sorts of
things. Every time a conversation got mired in a problem, my dad
would express his faith that “in the future, technology will fix that.”
I am not a teacher, I am an
—Robert Frost, American poet
Keep in mind that this was in 1964, before eight-tracks, cassettes,
and CDs—before handheld calculators, dumb terminals, and lap-
tops. The princess phone was the latest thing in telephone technol-
ogy, and if you had a color TV, you were the envy of just about
everyone else. It wasn’t that my dad was seeing new technology
every day. He had just seen enough of the things that were on the
drawing boards to marvel at what might happen next. His belief that
technology could solve any problem may sound naive, but he was
excited about the possibilities. He eagerly read the paper, watched
the news, and talked to the people connected with emerging tech-
nologies so he could learn. He was energized when he thought about
the future.
What does that for you? There are so many people who believe
that excitement about the future is a sign of cerebral ineptitude while
cynicism marks the intellectual. Oh, please. Cynicism is the mark of
a person who spends their time ignoring all the reasons that the uni-
verse provides, on a daily basis, for hope and renewal. There are
many positions to take between Pollyanna and Dilbert. Leaders
need to find their position and talk about what fires them up when
they think of tomorrow.
54. How do you learn about our customers?
Several years ago, one of the airlines aired a TV commercial that
told the story of a leader who gathered his team around a table to
announce that one of their oldest clients had just called and fired
them. As he handed out plane tickets, he told the team that they
were going to visit their customers face-to-face and reconnect with
them. “What about you, boss?” asked one of the team members.
“Me,” he said pulling a ticket out of his back pocket, “I’m going to
visit that old client who just fired us.” It was a powerful commercial.
I think of it often.
Some leaders wouldn’t recognize a customer if they bumped into
one. Pity. There is a contradiction if you ask the people in your
organization about your customers without having any firsthand
experiences to add to the conversation. Hearing stories secondhand
isn’t the same as talking to a real live customer who’s frustrated by
the failure of one of your products. It isn’t the same as seeing how
your services enable another entire organization’s processes. It
doesn’t match the relationships developed with customers over time.
There are leaders, of course, who do work to create opportuni-
ties to interact with their customers. Unfortunately, those relation-
ships are often limited to the largest customers or those customers
who have complained loudly enough or demanded emphatically
enough to get an audience with a leader. These contacts, desirable
as they are, do not provide a clear enough picture. What’s a leader
to do? Here’s an idea—and a challenge.
Pull out your organization chart and identify twelve areas where
you haven’t had, or don’t have, much occasion to interact with cus-
tomers, and make it your plan to spend time with a person in one of
those areas each month for the next twelve months. Spend the day
with an installer. Listen in with a customer services representative.
Make some sales calls, clean bathrooms with a janitor, and review
financials with an accountant. Listen to their customer interactions.
See your policies and procedures in action. Ask questions to deter-
mine how many of your experiences that day are typical. Experience
for yourself the needs and concerns of your customers. Get smart.
The next time you sit in a leadership team meeting, think of all
you’ll have to say!
P.S. Don’t forget to send thank-you notes.
55. How do you know what I do in my job?
I’m often hired to do skill-building workshops for frontline employ-
ees. The particular skill doesn’t seem to matter; the same question
is asked by participants, “Are you doing this program for our man-
agers/leaders?” Usually the answer is no, but I’ve come to believe
that their question isn’t grounded in a concern about the skill set of
the leadership team. It’s grounded in the concern of many people
that their leaders are clueless about what they do on a daily basis.
They believe that the people who make decisions that affect their
daily lives have no idea what their daily lives are all about.
Let’s face it. Leaders have access to (almost) unlimited support
possibilities. They control budgets and assignments. They get the
latest technology, the best bathrooms, and preferred parking. Now,
don’t get defensive—these statements might not apply to you, but I
bet there are people in your organization who believe they’re true.
Perception becomes reality, remember? In all fairness, it’s important
to say that most people in your organization don’t have the foggiest
notion of what you do every day either.
What’s a leader to do? Here’s an idea—and a challenge. (Some of
it may seem familiar from the last question, but read carefully. There
are some subtle differences.)
Look at your organization chart and identify twelve areas where
you haven't had, or don't have, much occasion to interact with employ-
ees, and make it your plan to spend time with a person in each of
those areas each month for the next twelve months. Spend the day
with an installer. Listen in with a customer services representative.
Make some sales calls, clean bathrooms with a janitor, and review
financials with an accountant. Listen to their customer interactions.
See your policies and procedures in action and the effect they have
on workflow, the quality of work life, and productivity. Experience
one of their days. Ask questions to determine how many of your
experiences that day are typical. Experience for yourself the needs
and concerns of your employees. Get smart about them.
Don’t stop there. Pick another area each month, and invite some-
one in your organization to spend the day with you. Ask them to
shadow you through meetings, phone calls, and lunch. Encourage
them to ask questions and answer them honestly. Help them get
smart about leadership.
56. How can I advance in our organization?
Have you ever listened to the radio station WIIFM? I’m surprised
if you haven’t. It has the power to broadcast all over the world, and
my experience, both personal and professional, leads me to believe
that everyone tunes in to this station—sooner rather than later.
WIIFM stands for What’s In It For Me. Get it?
Face it, we all run ideas, decisions, and problems through the fil-
ter that answers the question How will this affect me? When we can
estimate the effect, even if it’s not positive, we can move into action.
When we can’t figure out what’s going on, we often find ourselves
paralyzed by the fear of the unknown. This question is an attempt
to understand an important workplace process.
Promotions within an organization are often quite mysterious.
It appears that some people rise quickly based on who they know
with little regard to what they know. Some talented, smart people
appear to be overlooked, and sometimes a good guy wins the pro-
motional lottery. It’s hard to figure out if promotions are based on
skills, personality, or hat size. Jobs are posted and filled on the same
day. No wonder people are confused. You need to help clear up the
confusion by talking about the answer to this question.
First of all, do your homework. How are people chosen for
promotion? Does your organization use their values as a primary
screening tool for advancement, or does job-specific competency
supersede all other considerations? Are your policies adminis-
tered uniformly, or are they bent on a regular basis? Does who you
know matter more than what you know? Once you have a clear
picture of your current reality and implement any changes that
you may decide are necessary, start composing your response to
this question.
I believe that there are three parts to a promotion decision. Your
answer should cover all three.
1. What skills does this person bring to the job? Every posi-
tion needs technical competencies in both the hard- and
soft-skill areas. People must understand that they need to
take charge of their own skill development if they want pro-
motional opportunities within the organization. You need
to help them discover what skill sets the organization
expects for a successful future.
2. What behaviors does this person exhibit in their current
position? Jobs are not just about getting the task done;
they’re about how you go about getting the job done, too.
People need to understand that their ability to work effec-
tively on a team, offer creative ideas, and learn continuously
will affect their promotional opportunities within the orga-
nization. You need to help them match their behaviors with
the organization’s values.
3. What attitudes does this person bring to work every day?
Organizational attitudes are the composite of the attitudes
of all people who work there. People need to understand
that most often, attitudes are an initial screening device for
promotion. You need to ensure that all employees are given
feedback regularly, not just once a year at review time,
about how their attitudes are perceived throughout the
57. How do you make decisions?
After a fifteen-year on-again, off-again quest, I found a copy of a
book I remember from my early childhood, I Decided. Rereading it
after more years than I care to share with you, the story was just as
I remembered. A little girl goes shopping with her mother and is
allowed to pick one toy. She weighs her options, thinks through the
possibilities, and makes an informed decision. She can’t wait for her
father to come home from work so she can tell him about her choice.
I loved that book and made my mother read it over and over until I
could read it for myself. It described my decision-making process to
a T. Have you ever thought about how you make decisions? Before
you can answer this question and explain your decision-making pro-
cess to someone else, it might be helpful to spend some time review-
ing exactly how you do make decisions.
The employees who ask you (or who would ask you if they
thought they could), How do you make decisions? are trying to under-
stand what goes on behind the scenes so they can better understand
the decisions you make. They will learn to make better independent
decisions if you help them envision the kinds of things you consider
as you make decisions. You could share what kinds of decisions are
hard for you and which ones are easy. You could share with them
how you gather data as well as how much data you gather before you
feel confident of the facts behind an issue. You could let them know
under what circumstances you go with your gut feeling and when
you need logic to prevail. You could share how you decide who you
go to in order to bounce ideas and possible solutions around.
You could, if you’re really brave, talk about bad decisions you’ve
made and how you came to make them. Even better, you could talk
about how you learned from a bad decision and how you changed
your decision-making behavior because of it. You could ask the per-
son questioning you how they make decisions and what they’ve
learned about decision-making in their previous jobs. You could
assure them that organizations are stronger when different people
employ many different ways of making decisions as long as every-
one does their homework before they decide. You could challenge
them to become better decision-makers.
I could lend you my copy of I Decided.
58. How do you take time to think?
This question can be tricky if your answer is I don’t or I’ve heard of
people who try something like this. How do you find time to think? Not
to solve problems or put out fires, but just to think about things both
big and small. I know, I know: you’re so busy every day there’s never
any time for quiet reflection. Maybe on your next vacation? This is
the worst form of self-deception leaders can engage in. If the leader
isn’t stepping away from the day-to-day activities in their part of the
business to think, who is? Ignoring the need for thinking allows
seemingly healthy, active businesses to fail because of the change
they never saw coming…until it was too late. Please don’t fall into
that trap—it’s awfully hard to get yourself out. Here are six sugges-
tions to help you find time to think. After you’ve practiced them for
a while, you can use them, with assurance in your voice, to answer
this question.
1. Make an appointment with yourself. This is the least you
can do, so before another week goes by, do it! Schedule a
thirty-minute, hold-my-calls, can’t-be-changed meeting
with yourself and keep it. During these thirty minutes,
think. Don’t write, read magazines, or clean your desk.
Think. It would be great if you could do it with your office
door open. Don’t let people interrupt. Tell them you’re
thinking and you’ll get back to them shortly.
2. Take a walk. A short fifteen- to twenty-minute walk at an
almost brisk pace will provide a great thinking environ-
ment. Since this is a short burst of thinking, why not try it
with a question in mind? Not a day-to-day problem,
although this works well for that, too, but a general I need
to think about that some day issue. Here are some possible
topics that fit this technique.

What’s changing in our environment that we haven’t
thought about?

What new skills will our team need in the next year?

What barriers exist to our team’s success this quarter?
3. Do your daily exercise routine without distractions.
Distractions are a room full of people talking, your favorite
morning or evening news show, or the video of last night’s
episode of The West Wing. As you work out, let your mind
wander and follow where it goes. Thinking is an amazing
process that requires relinquishing control and enjoying the
journey to insight. Distractionless exercise is a great oppor-
tunity to experience it.
4. Listen to Mozart. As I write this, the Mozart at Midnight
CD is playing in the background. Read the book The Mozart
Effect by Don Campbell for all the research, but take it from
me—Mozart helps you think. You can turn flying time into
thinking time if you carry earphones and Mozart with you.
5. Engage in a hobby that you enjoy and that requires repet-
itive movement with your hands. Here are a few I can think
of that work: Woodworking. Knitting. Gardening.
Painting. Playing an instrument. Golf could work if you did
it alone. Hiking, again if you’re alone and if you swing your
arms as you go. Ironing. (Please don’t spread this one
around.) Any of those strike your fancy? It’s the repetitive
nature of the hand movements that seems to trigger cre-
ative thinking. If you don’t currently do any of these or any-
thing else that fits the criteria, try one. Don’t worry—when
you find the right thing for you, you’ll know immediately.
6. Take a field trip. Go to a museum, an art gallery, or a
library. Visit a mall, sit in a competitor’s parking lot, or fly
a kite. Do it by yourself or take a colleague. At the end of
your excursion ask yourself, What did I see or experience today
that taught me something about my work or my life? Don’t push
for the answer, but don’t give up too quickly. There’s always
something there; you just need to think till you find it.
All of these ideas require two things: the courage to try them and
tell others what you’re doing, and paper and pencil to jot down the
great thoughts that will surface. Be careful—this thinking stuff can
become contagious. I guarantee it.
59. What makes you angry in the workplace?
My friend Kathryn Jeffers wrote a book called Don’t Kill the
Messenger: How to Avoid the Dangers of Workplace Conflict. In the
Introduction, she paraphrases Aristotle’s words on anger. He
believed that anyone can become angry, but to be angry with the
right person, to the right degree, for the right purpose, and in the
right way, is not easy. If you know how to be angry with the right
person, to the right degree, for the right purpose, and in the right
way, and if you have asked three people who care enough about you
to tell the truth for verification of your skill set, skip the rest of this
question. If not, read on.
Anger in the workplace is a tricky thing. It is most often mis-
used, misdirected, and misunderstood. Most of us are not com-
fortable dealing with raw emotions. We get uncomfortable with
glad, sad, and mad and go to great lengths to avoid them. We
haven’t been educated to react appropriately when we’re either the
giver or the receiver of these emotions. Learning to understand,
control, and utilize conflict in a positive way takes commitment,
practice, and hard work.
Unfortunately, leaders often think they are exempt from the
commitment, practice, and hard work it takes to make anger a tool
rather than an outburst. In many organizations, the stories about a
leader’s rage are legendary, and they’re usually not stories with
happy endings. It is highly unlikely that you or any other members
on your leadership team will succeed by using anger as a manage-
ment tool. If you or one of your colleagues uses anger or rage as a
technique, this would be a great time to stop it.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t think about or talk about
what makes you angry. Even though you may pride yourself on
containing your anger (trust me on this), people around you know
when you’re angry. Knowing what makes you angry is helpful for
both you and the people around you.
Several years ago I realized that having to go over information
or instructions people had already agreed upon made the hair on the
back of my neck stand up. All of my ability to help a learner learn,
and my ability to keep calm and display infinite patience, disap-
peared. When people ask me to go over old agreements, my jaw
clenches, my breathing gets shallow, and I start talking in short,
clipped sentences. I don’t yell, rant, or rave. The effect, however, is
the same. People know I’m angry, and I know they don’t know why.
This is my problem, as anger so often is, and I’ve learned that let-
ting people know what’s happening to me—and that it isn’t their
fault—is helpful for both of us. So, answer this question. It will be
good for you and for others!
60. How do you measure success?
Recently, four of us gathered around a table to play cards. Of the
four, one knew all the rules, two knew some of the rules, and the
fourth thought she’d played the game once in her life. We played a
practice hand to give everyone the opportunity to get a feel for the
rules, and then we began playing the game for real. Several rounds
into the game, our expert played a winning card. We looked at her
with blank stares, and she said, “Oh, I guess I forget to tell you about
this move.” You can imagine our indignation and the discussion that
followed about her winning hand. We’ve all felt that way at one time
or another. We wanted to win, we were playing by the rules, and
then someone told us that we really didn’t know the whole story.
Success wasn’t an illusion; it was just a little different from what we
were led to believe. (Just in case you’re wondering, she won the hand
but didn’t win the game.)
Success can be a very elusive commodity, especially when you
don’t know what success is. One would think that if an organization
has a set of values, it would be pretty easy to figure out what the rules
of success are. If your values say the customer is number one, you’ll
want to consider the customer’s needs and wants in everything you
do. If respect for people is high on your organization’s values list,
you’ll want to work on relationships as you get your job done. And
if your organization lives their stated values, you’ll be right. But not
all organizations do what they say.
Leaders have three choices when they want to answer this ques-
tion. They can review the organization’s values with the questioner
and help clarify the specific behaviors that match the stated values.
They can apologize that they haven’t done their job as a leader and
get to work on a set of values that are meaningful for their situation.
Or they can change either their existing values or their behavior if
the two don’t currently match. No matter which of these three
options fits your situation, you’ve got to get the message out to
everyone: “This is how we play the game.” No fair slipping in a rule
or two later.
61. What are you learning?
In a recent interview on the Today show, the musician Jon Bon Jovi
told Matt Lauer how much he enjoyed working as an actor with
Matthew McConaughey on the movie U-571. As an inexperienced
actor, Bon Jovi looked to McConaughey as a leader and wasn’t dis-
appointed. Bon Jovi said that it wasn’t what McConaughey said but
what he did that helped him. Leaders teach by example whether they
know they’re doing it or not. Do you remember the first time an
adult said to you, “Do as I say, not as I do”? Did it strike you as
ridiculous at the time? If it didn’t then, it certainly should now. Your
development as a leader won’t go very far if you don’t learn this les-
son. People inside and outside of your organization will learn more
from you about leadership, for good or ill, from what you do than
from what you say.
Learning about learning is a hot topic in many workplaces.
Businesses in general have reached the conclusion that if they’re not
learning about their customers, themselves, and their future on a
daily basis they’re losing the race. I’ve observed many management
team meetings where leaders have discussed learning strategies and
opportunities for their people to get smarter. I haven’t listened in on
conversations where they’ve challenged each other and reported on
their personal learning goals. And that’s a problem. People will
believe that learning is part of their job in your organization by
watching whether or not you’re learning.
So, let’s talk about what you’re learning. I hope you can answer
this question with two things in mind. First is that you’d be excited
to share the skill you’re learning that will make you better at doing
your job. It would be great if you could also share how you’re learn-
ing. Is it a formal process or a self-study situation? You would tell
how you were taking what you’ve learned and practiced and applied
it in a real-life situation. You would be willing to share how you
might have failed as you tried new skills and how you appreciated
the feedback you got from others as you practiced. You would look
and sound excited as you described how this learning was making
your work easier, more efficient, and more fun.
Then, you would move on to telling us about what you were
learning in your personal life. Your face would light up as you
described your movement into uncharted waters. Who your teacher
was. How often you got to practice what you were learning. How
you realized that this personal learning was giving you insights about
your business situation—an unexpected bonus. How something
could be frustrating and fun at the same time.
After a conversation like this, I’d know you were a lifelong
learner and I’d be challenged. Way to go, leader!
62. How do you stay positive?
I’d like you to try a little experiment. Remember the first day of your
first real job. What happened that caused you to hide the expression
on your face so no one else could see the silly grin that spread from
ear to ear? Remember what triggered the response and what the
response felt like.
Cynicism is a disease that is pervasive in our society and, like a
cancer, it holds the possibility of our death. Listen to people in your
workplace talking about a new hire. “Did you see the new kid in
accounting? Grinning from ear to ear, filled with new ways to fix all
our problems.” “Yeah, what a hoot! Don’t worry, just give him a
month, and this place will wipe that grin off his face.”
Variations of that conversation get repeated over coffee in organi-
zations from coast to coast and I’ve never heard of one incident of a
leader who has walked over and said, “Excuse me, but don’t ever let
me hear something like that again! In our organization we want peo-
ple to join us all fired-up about the possibilities and to stay that way
for their entire career. And, by the way, if you don’t feel excitement
about what you do here on a daily basis, maybe your résumé needs
dusting off!” Can you see yourself delivering that message? I hope so.
In order to deliver that message convincingly, you need to be
enthusiastic about your job and show it. Not necessarily in big ways,
but in small, consistent ways. Body language, tone of voice, expres-
sions of glee, and expressions of concern are all ways people make
judgments about how you’re feeling about your job. Leaders who
are excited about what they’re doing on a daily basis create envi-
ronments where cynicism has a hard time taking root.
As a leader, you are not, however, expected to be up all the time;
you do get to be human. Discouraged, tired, and frustrated hap-
pen to all of us. You do need to have strategies to make your own
attitude adjustments and, upon occasion, do them publicly. A lot
to ask of a leader, isn’t it? Just remember, it’s why they pay you the
big bucks.
63. How do you re-ignite your enthusiasm for
your job?
Everyone gets down in the dumps. The trick is not to stay there.
Especially when you’re the leader. So, how do you re-ignite your
enthusiasm? I call my grandson Quinn. At the time I’m writing this
he’s twenty-one months old, and his favorite word is WOW! (The
caps and the exclamation mark are deliberate—you can hear them
both in his voice.) When I call, no matter what day, what time, my
son Paul says, “Quinn, do you want to talk to Grandma?” I can
hear him running to the phone saying “WOW!” I really wouldn’t
need the conversation (and truth be told, at twenty-one months it
isn’t much of a conversation) to go on. My spirit is lifted from
whatever pushed it down by a simple word delivered with enthu-
siasm, “WOW!”
What about you? Do you take a walk around the plant? Substitute
a session at the gym for lunch? Meditate? Pray? Call your mother or
your favorite uncle? See, it doesn’t matter what you do. It does mat-
ter that you have something that you know will work, that you do
right away. Something you can do without thinking, and that works
about 98 percent of the time. Something that doesn’t take much time,
expense, or equipment. Because you’re the leader. Your team needs
you to be enthusiastic. It’s a big part of your job.
Please don’t relegate this to some of that silly “Life is just a bowl
of cherries” nonsense foisted on a gullible population by overpaid
motivational speakers. This is about hope, an overlooked attribute
that should be a leader’s stock-in-trade. Leaders owe their people
hope at the same time they’re providing the truth about tough sit-
uations. It’s their job to be role models for re-igniting enthusiasm
when times are difficult.
So you need a plan. What fires you up? A day off to re-group? A
vacation to re-create yourself? A conversation with your favorite
customer? A talk with your newest employee? An e-mail to your
mentor? A phone call to Quinn? I’ll be glad to share the number.
64. What do you love about your job?
Did the word “love” in this question make you raise an eyebrow,
cough nervously, or think about moving on to the next page? These
questions are going to get increasingly personal as the pages turn,
and you’re going to have to make a decision about whether or not
you’re going to stay with them. Being a leader requires that you go
to a deeper level instead of staying on the surface. Oh, you can man-
age by skimming the top of issues, emotions, and people, but you
can’t lead from there.
Leadership requires thinking about and acting on things that
occur beneath the surface. It requires that you care enough to con-
front. People who have heard me talk about teams have heard me
say, “Hate is not the opposite of love. Apathy is.” Leaders can’t be
apathetic. So we need to talk about love, enthusiasm, fun, and mean-
ing. Can you handle that?
What do you love about your job? I hope it doesn’t take too long for
you to answer. It’s easy for leaders to get so caught up in all the
important things they’re supposed to do that they forget the things
that brought them to their profession in the first place. I remember
when my Aunt Elsie, who became a nurse during World War II,
realized that she wasn’t happy being a nurse because nurses no
longer spent much time with patients. Her first impulse was to quit
nursing since the part of the job she loved the most no longer occu-
pied most of her time, but she came to understand that, by chang-
ing the kind of nursing she was doing, she could do more of what
she loved. She left the hospital setting and became a visiting nurse.
She devoted the rest of her nursing career to direct patient care.
So let me ask the question again. What is the part of your job
that you love? The part you would do if they paid you or not?
What are the ways you can work more of those activities into
your schedule?
Just one other thought. What about loving the things you have
to do? There is a great greeting card that says, “In order to love what
you do, don’t do what you love, love what you do.” Pretend I’ve just
sent you that card. Hold it in your hands, stare at it for a while, and
ponder the message. Just some more food for thought.
65. What do you do just for fun?
I was doing a team-building session for a group of system-types in
a large organization. We had claimed our space in the corporate
conference center and made it ours for the two days of our session.
By the afternoon of the first day, it was a mess. Flipcharts covered
the walls, candy wrappers littered the floor, and colored makers were
everywhere. Subgroups were taking the challenge of designing and
producing a race-winning paper airplane seriously. The groups had
decided to put some distance between each other to avoid industrial
espionage and left the room to work outside in the warm spring sun-
shine. I was alone in the meeting room.
The door opened and a three-piece-suit type stuck his head in the
room, looked the space over and said, with a touch of disapproval,
“What’s going on in here?”
“A session on team building,” I calmly replied.
“Oh,” he said as he backed out of the room, “You’re not doing
real work then.”
I no longer react to such ignorance; I just feel pity. All those peo-
ple who haven’t figured out that learning can be fun, work can be
fun, and fun can be work, just don’t get it. Organizations thrive
when people have fun as they work together. Leaders are the ones
that make having fun at work a legitimate behavior.
Fun. Ah, you remember fun, don’t you? What do you do just for
fun? Think about the last time you grinned from ear to ear, giggled,
or laughed out loud. That was a hint, you were having fun.
Hopefully it’s not taking you too long to think of an example. The
more confusing, demanding, and complicated our lives become, the
more we need fun as a counterbalance. On really stressful days in
our office, we’ve been known to go outside to make snow angels,
have a Koosh ball battle, or dissolve into fits of tear-producing
laughter over really stupid jokes. What happens during stressful
times in your office?
How do you feel about fun? Is it an integral part of your work
and personal life? Do you believe it has a place in your off-duty
life, but not in the workplace? Is fun a word that’s lost its place in
your vocabulary? Think about it. You never know when someone
might ask!
66. What gives your life meaning?
This is the BIG question, and only you can answer it. But answer it
you must. Leaders owe it to themselves as well as the people they
lead to go deeper into their own motivations, their hopes, and their
dreams. Business schools don’t require a course in “Understanding
Your Personal Mission” for graduation, nor do many family con-
versations involve parents sharing their purpose in life with their
children. Most of us grow up believing that scores get kept based on
things like home runs hit, beauty contests won, and amounts on
annual W-2 forms. What a pity.
Think of a person who had a great positive influence on your life.
How did that happen? Was it the size of their office that so impressed
you that you decided right then and there that you were going to
strive to be a great leader? Was it the tale of an exotic vacation, a
fancy car, or a prestigious title that convinced you to follow some-
one’s footsteps? I rather doubt it. More likely it was a quiet word spo-
ken at the right moment, an encouraging smile after you spoke up at
a meeting, or a short note of congratulations for a job well done that
caused you to say, “This is a person I want to emulate.”
My friend Mary Marcdante said, “When you’re on purpose, life
fits.” How does your life fit these days? If tomorrow were your last
day on this planet, would your list of regrets be longer than your list
of accomplishments? People who are clear about the meanings of
their lives find it much easier to make decisions about the big things,
to prioritize the activities that fill up their days, and to know, really
know, what’s important. There is great peace of mind in knowing
how to answer if someone asks, What gives your life meaning?
In his wonderful book The Eagle’s Secret, David McNally quotes
Maureen Gustafsen, CEO of the Mankato Chamber and Convention
Bureau as saying, ”We all have a significant role to play. It is our duty
to determine that role and our obligation to fulfill it.” I couldn’t agree
more. That’s why this question appears twice in this book. It’s a ques-
tion you need to both ask and answer. Organizations that are filled
with people who both unapologetically ask and thoughtfully answer
this question are places with a very bright future.
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
Early on, I advanced the theory that great leaders don’t have all the
answers, but they have great questions; and now, as promised in the
beginning of this chapter, I’ve put you in the position of having to
provide answers. How did it feel?
Could you tell that these are not your usual let’s-go-ask-the-boss
kind of questions? I hope so. Managers understand that they need
to be factual, organizational, and functional resources for the peo-
ple on their teams. Leaders know that their questions and answers
must go beyond that—into areas of philosophy, ethics, and feelings.
All the answers we ever get
are responses to questions.
—Neil Postman, Chair, Department
of Culture and Communications,
New York University
Leaders are skillful at asking the right questions, at the right time,
of the right people. Leaders are equally skilled at giving the right
answers, to the right question, in the right context. They think about
the questions that need to be asked, learn from the answers, and take
action appropriately.
They know when to ask, when to answer, and when to listen.
They really mean it when they say, “Don’t worry, there’s no such
thing as a stupid question.” They have the courage to respond with
an “I don’t know” when they don’t know. They’re comfortable
answering a question with silence.
In Confessions of an Accidental Businessman, James Autry wrote,
“This has to do with the transition from manager to leader being
fundamentally a leap from the external to the internal, from the life
outside to the inner life, from a preoccupation with doing to the
acceptance of being as the defining characteristic of leadership.” I
couldn’t agree more!
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❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚ ❚
1. Which of the questions in this chapter did you find the most chal-
lenging? Why?
2. What behaviors do you want to change based on what you’ve
learned in this chapter?

4. How would you answer those questions?
5. What is the one thing you want to remember most from this

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