Good Leaders Ask Great Questions
By Kate Blessing-Assistant Editor, Soundview Executive Book Summaries®
When leaders begin asking questions about themselves and of themselves, they’re doing what their followers have been doing for years,” says author John C. Maxwell. Maxwell, a leadership expert and the author of Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, discusses how a change in outlook can improve leadership skills. In this interview with Soundview, he explains why leaders must ask questions of themselves, what creates leadership stability and how to define reality for a struggling team.
Soundview: What can leaders learn from asking questions of themselves?
John C. Maxwell: We have an assumption sometimes that we lead and people follow without asking questions, and it’s not true. Many people that are following us are asking major questions about us and about our leadership.
Leaders are the first on the scene. What I mean by that is, leaders see before others see and they see more than others see. To do that, you have to ask yourself questions. In my early years of leading, I didn’t ask myself questions. I thought that giving direction, giving vision, pointing where to go, getting everybody on the leadership train was my goal.
What I discovered is that questions are the keys that unlock the doors to our future, to opportunity, and to our potential. I’ve found that if I ask good questions on the front end, I get good answers on the back end, which allows me to lead a lot better. People are asking questions about us as leaders and we need to be more reflective and meditative to ask ourselves the hard questions before we lead others. If I ask the right questions before I lead, when others ask questions, I’ll have the right answers.
Soundview: What answers should a leader seek to discover if he or she is grounded?
Maxwell: The greatest gifts leaders can give are security, stability, confidence. Those are results of being grounded, so you have to ask yourself “Am I consistent?” That’s one of the quickest ways to see if we are grounded. Are we consistent in our attitude and in our actions? Or are we constantly surprising people? A true guarantee of a person having stability is that [his or her] leadership is predictable. If leadership is highly surprising all the time, people get whiplash, and that’s not where we want to go.
The first thing a leader must do is he or she must lead themselves. I can’t lead until I’ve led myself first. That’s a whole picture of stability, a person who is willing to ask themselves the hard questions, deal with reality, work on the areas in their life that show any form of inconsistency, and mostly be predictable. Not boring predictable, but be predictable in the fact that the values that a person lives and believes are backed up by their actions and by their attitude, and when all those line up, then you have a person that gives security, confidence, which is the result of being a stable leader.
Soundview: What creates leadership sustainability?
Maxwell: Anyone can lead for the moment, anyone can lead in a situation, but to continually lead well and have increased influence speaks a lot about the person. Sustainability is a result of consistency and character. Sustainability is a fact that we are supplying and getting energy for ourselves and not running out of fuel.
I’ve often felt very badly for people who have to follow leaders who are worn out and tired because they’re not giving their very best. I have to be a sustainable leader. I have to grow every day. Every day I have to be a learner. I’ve often said I love to lead, but my passion to learn is even greater than my love to lead.
Also, an asset in being a sustainable leader is that you’re current, fresh, and not giving the same type of leadership you did six months ago, so that people want to follow you.