Leadership means asking great questions. But that’s not always as simple as it sounds.
Here’s a useful way of thinking about the types of question you can ask, courtesy of Christopher J. Frank, Oded Netzer, and Paul F. Magnone (link below):
🟦 Factual Questions: “This type of question has straightforward answers based on facts or awareness. These questions can be open or closed. The answers to questions are based on facts but may require an explanation.”
🟦 Convergent Questions: “These are close-ended questions with a finite set of answers. Typically, these questions have one correct answer. The most basic convergent question can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” “
🟦 Divergent Questions: “These are open-ended questions that encourage many answers. These questions can best be understood as exploratory — as means for analyzing a situation, problem, or complexity in greater detail and then predicting different outcomes. Frequently the goal is to stimulate creative thought or to expand the conversation.”
🟦 Evaluative Questions: “This requires deeper levels of thinking. The questions can be open or closed. Evaluative questions elicit analysis at multiple levels and from different perspectives to arrive at newly synthesized information or conclusions.”
What also matters, of course, is how you put the different types of question into practice.
The “7 Sins of Questioning” shown here comes from David Marquet and his book “Leadership Is Language.”
David’s advice is: 1. Instead of question stacking, try one and done. 2. Instead of a teaching moment, try a learning moment. 3. Instead of a dirty question, try a clean question. (A “dirty question” is one that suggests the other person is wrong somehow). 4. Instead of a binary question, start the question with “what” or “how.” 5. Instead of a “why” question, try “tell me more.” 6. Instead of self-affirming questions, try self-educating questions. 7. Instead of jumping to the future, start with present, past, then future.
Susanne Jacobs’ model of trust, from her book “DRIVERS – Creating Trust and Motivation at Work” identifies seven key factors:
1️⃣ Direction – purpose and meaning 2️⃣ Relative position – a sense you contribution is valued 3️⃣ Inclusion – belonging and connection 4️⃣ Voice and choice – some say over decisions that affect you 5️⃣ Equity – respect and fairness 6️⃣ Reliability – certainty and security 7️⃣ Stretch – learning and growth.
📈 Get these right and you can head down a performance path that is based on trust and safety. => You will set people up to Thrive.
📉 Get them wrong, and people will be fearful and threatened. => A workforce may enter Survive mode.
💡 Susanne highlights the importance of perceptions. “Our perception about what is happening to the DRIVERS can shift, determining whether our brain interprets them to be safe or under threat. This interpretation is designed to drive our behaviour towards safety and away from danger. It is the basis of whether we engage or disengage.”
Where can you intervene to drive system change? Are there particular points or moments when you have more leverage?
This is something I’m really interested in when it comes to improving employee experience. How can you identify and elevate the moments that really matter for building trust in the workplace?
👉 Donella Meadows is who I associate with “leverage points”. She started with the observation that there are levers, or places within a complex system where a “small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything”.
💡 She began with a list of nine such points and expanded it to twelve. Here they all are, listed in order of increasing effectiveness:
🔹 Constants, parameters, numbers 🔹The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows. 🔹The structure of material stocks and flows 🔹The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change. 🔹The strength of negative feedback loops 🔹The gain around driving positive feedback loops 🔹The structure of information flows 🔹The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints) 🔹The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure 🔹The goals of the system 🔹The mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises 🔹The power to transcend paradigms
👉 What’s this last one?: “It is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that NO paradigm is “true,” that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding.”
This illustration comes from a great article by David Ehrlichman on systems thinking and design thinking, which you can find here: https://buff.ly/3ONzHLK
🔑 “There is so much that has to be said to qualify this list. It is tentative and its order is slithery. There are exceptions to every item that can move it up or down the order of leverage.”
💡 Moreover: “Leverage points are not easily accessible, even if we know where they are and which direction to push on them. There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of Not Knowing. In the end, it seems that mastery has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.”
That’s the question Dan Ariely asks in his work on The Human Capital Factor™.
💡 Unsurprisingly, he finds human capital matters a lot for business performance and that’s the case across industries, not just for e.g., knowledge work.
In terms of what’s important for people and jobs, he highlights: ✔ Task satisfaction ✔ Feeling appreciated ✔ Psychological safety ✔ And “the degree to which companies provide the conditions where employees can align their own utility with that of the company and its stakeholders.”
He argues there are two building blocks for a strong Human Capital Factor overall:
1️⃣ Motivating Goodwill – “the range between the minimum effort required by an employee to keep their job and the maximum effort possible by that employee if they’re fully engaged in their role.”
2️⃣ Utility Alignment – “the willingness of employees to execute tasks that are aimed at the wider benefit of the company.”
When you get both, you have Aligned Effort and high Value Creation (as shown in the 2×2 here).
The alignment piece is interesting. It’s something we see in our work, but it’s often missing from discussions of employee engagement. (We sometimes refer to it as “cognitive commitment”.)
The AGES Model from the NeuroLeadership Institute argues it takes: “Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing.”
🔑 Attention: ✔ Has limits (about 20 minutes before needing a refresher) ✔ “Multitasking is the enemy of learning” ✔ “Attention is susceptible to interference with materials of the same modality (e.g., reading language and hearing language).”
🗝 Generation: ✔ Creating (and sharing) your own connections to ideas has great power ✔ The act of generation matters more than the connections themselves ✔ Social generation is especially powerful ✔ As is “insight”; “That eureka moment when the unconscious mind solves a problem, is perhaps the most valuable form of generation.”
🔓 Emotions: ✔ “Emotional arousal matters for making learning last” ✔ “Positivity is better than negativity”.
📢 Spacing: ✔ Having a gap between learning and review sessions ✔ “Perhaps the most profound benefit of spacing is that it allows for sleep”
💡 What also matters is making learning social: “The very social nature of the human brain means that making learning social brings potential for magnifying the effects of each of the other aspects of AGES.”
👉 Is this a framework you find useful…? What other approaches do you follow?
Here’s the reference: Davis, Josh, M I Balda, David Rock, Paul McGinniss and Lila Davachi. “The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model.” (2014)
What makes for a really effective leadership team?
In this great article Roger Martin says: “The key to Leadership Team effectiveness and efficiency is segmentation of tasks. There need to be very different modes of working and the only way to do them well is to segment them into three chunks: LT Members as Individuals, LT Members as Colleagues, and LT as a Collective.”
🔑 As Individuals, “the key imperative is role clarity that is understood and agreed upon by the CEO and the LT member.”
🗝 As Colleagues, “the key imperative is collaboration skill, the development and utilization of which should be strongly encouraged by the CEO.”
🔓 As a Collective, “the key imperative is focus and restraint.”
Based on what I’ve seen, I think what really matters is building the mindset that’s required for “leaders as colleagues”. It’s key for making difficult decisions, especially trade-offs. But a lot of pressures get in the way, e.g. competition and territoriality.
What do you think? Is this a useful framework for your organisation?
Which Thinking Hat are you wearing? And more importantly Why? (And When?)
💡 Edward de Bono’s Six Hats is a way of providing structure to discussions and ensuring that you bring different perspectives to the table when making decisions.
What are the hats?
🔵 Blue Hat: The Conductor’s Hat. Thinking about and managing the thinking process. The blue hat is the control hat. It is used for thinking about thinking. The blue hat sets the agenda, focus and sequence, ensures the guidelines are observed and asks for summaries, conclusions, decisions and plans action.
🟢 Green Hat: The Creative Hat. Generating ideas. The green hat is for creative thinking and generating new ideas, alternatives, possibilities and new concepts.
🔴 Red Hat: The Hat For The Heart. Intuition and feelings. The red hat is about feelings, intuitions and instincts. The red hat invites feelings without justification.
🟡 Yellow Hat: The Optimist’s Hat. Benefits and values. The yellow hat is for a positive view of things. It looks for the benefits and values.
⚫ Black Hat: The Judge’s Hat. Caution. The black hat identifies risk. It is used for critical judgment and must give the logical reasons for concerns. It is one of the most powerful hats.
⚪ White Hat: The Factual Hat. Information. The white hat is all about information. What information you have, what information you need and where to get it. (This is my favourite hat!)
Edward de Bono wrote the book “Six Thinking Hats” in 1985. He wrote “Lateral Thinking for Management” in 1971 and Six Hats is about “Parallel Thinking” – where people consciously “wear the same hat” as they explore all sides of an issue (in contrast to adversarial thinking).
🔑 By wearing each of the hats and by wearing them together with other people, you can gain a richer understanding of issues and how to solve them.
🗝 And as shown here, specific topics/issues may require a different order to the hat-wearing.
What do you reckon? Something you use? Or has it become – [groan; so sorry] – old hat?
In this article Daniel Stillman summarises a 2×2 of employee motivation and technical ability that comes from Danny Meyer (founder chairman of Union Square Hospitality Group and author of “Setting the Table”).
The conversation is really around how you can scale culture by rewarding the right behaviours and not tolerating the wrong ones.
When it comes to this framework, each quadrant has its own actions.
For people who: ✔ Can & Will – you need to recognise and celebrate them ✔ Can’t but Will – you need to coach, and have some patience ✔ Can’t & Won’t – you need an early intervention ✔ Can but Won’t – you need a broader discussion.
🔑 Danny Meyer talks about using the framework as a mirror (literally, in fact) for employees to reflect on their position. There’s a hospitality-focus to the approach, as in engaging people with great “hospitality attitude”.
I’m always interested in how tools like this can “fit” with different sectors and strategies. Does this approach resonate with you at all….?