Leadership Now

Asking a More Beautiful Question

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments

If our questions are so unimaginative and predictable that Google can guess what we’re asking before we’re even three words in, says Warren Berger, then we aren’t asking the right questions.

“It’s the questions Google cannot easily anticipate or even answer that we should be asking. Asking the right questions helps us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to achieve our goals.”

We are drowning in answers. What we need today are good questions. In times of great change, doubt is the norm, so good questions, not answers, have the edge. John Seely Brown says, “If you don’t have a disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things—then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

Beautiful Question

In A More Beautiful Question, Berger shows how the most powerful forces for igniting change is the question. Example after example demonstrate how often off-beat “why” questions were at the foundation of many innovations. But he cautions, “Just asking why without taking any action may be the source of stimulating thought or conversation, but it is not likely to produce change.” He suggests the following sequence: Why? What If? and How? It brings some order to an otherwise chaotic an unpredictable process.

We must even question the questions. Neurologist Robert Burton says we should step back and inquire, “Why did I come up with that question? Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Finding that one big beautiful question for you is not easy. It is a process—a way of looking at life. “You don’t have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say, I’m going to venture forth in the word with my question and see what I find. As you do this, you’re in a strong position to build ideas and attract support. Because, whereas people are more likely to ignore or challenge you when you come at them with answers, they almost can’t resist advising or helping you to answer a great question.

Live the questions.

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(A More Beautiful Question has more than enough examples of questions that led to great ideas to fire up your brain. Interestingly enough, in place of a standard index, he has an Index of Questions.)

• Why do kids ask so many questions—and more importantly, why do they stop? (p.39-70)

• Considering that today’s schools were built on an industrial model, is it possible they were actually designed to squelch questioning? (p. 4-60)

• Should businesses replace mission statements with “mission questions”? (p. 162-165)

• How do the most innovative companies foster a “culture of inquiry”—and how can any business or organization do likewise? (165-174)

• What has worked for me before—and how can I bring more of that into my life now? (p. 193-194)

• Can I use productive “small failures” as a means of avoiding devastating “big failures”? (p. 199-202)

• Why did George Carlin see things the rest of us missed? (p. 39-40)

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. What is yours?


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Lessons on Team Performance from Elite U.S. Military Units

Posted by on Mar 13, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments


James Murphy says American business has an execution problem. Why? Because we make things complex. “Complexity is the mortal enemy of good execution.” We tend to combat complexity with even more complexity. Simplicity is the SEALs answer to a complex world.

In Courage to Execute, Murphy walks us through a simple process used by America’s elite military units that will improve an organization’s ability to execute and achieve goals. “Their courage, confidence, and capabilities stem from a relentless, time-proven process of conditioning, training, planning, executing, and improving.”

Soldiers morph into Rangers—individuals into teams—when they get a sense of who they are and what they’re a part of. “Together, the army’s core values and the Ranger Creed create a unique organizational identity that breeds unit and trust. This is the glue that holds everything together.” Successful organizations are able to focus and execute according to purpose. “Principles are like cardinal rules so important to you organization that they should never be broken. They are things you always do or never do. They are your guardrails.”

To align everyone in your organization create and pursue a common high definition destination. “Think exclusively in high definition and create a specific, detailed, granular, crystal-clear picture of what you’ll look like and how you’ll be operating when your organization reaches its intended future destination.” Keep in mind, “General ideas lead to general execution, and that get’s sloppy.”

When you plan your “mission” ask, is it clear? Is it measureable? Is it achievable? Does it align with your high definition destination? Every plan should be run by a red-team. “Red teams play the role of adversary.” They “identify potential risks, holes, or contingencies that the original group may have overlooked.”

Once you begin to execute, “never let yourself or your team lose sight of where you are relative to your objective and your threats.” Utilize checklists and cross-checks to help avoid task saturation. The moment you have too much to do or resources to do it, you lose focus on the most important thing. “When people become task saturated, they either quit, compartmentalize, or channel. In each case, their performance deteriorates rapidly. Quitters stop working or stop being productive. Those who compartmentalize appear busy but focus on tasks that accomplish little. Most of us, however, channel our focus onto one thing and ignore the rest. None of these behaviors lead to a good outcome.”

Murphy says debriefing is the essence of teamwork. “Organizations that don’t debrief often equate failure with retribution or negative consequences.” (And often for good reason.) But it is an opportunity to improve and to see if something systemic might have caused the problem. Murphy advocates the STEALTH debrief: Set the time, Tone, Execution versus objectives, Analyze execution, Lessons learned, Transfer lessons learned and end on a High note.

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Quick and Nimble: A Leadership Companion

Posted by on Mar 11, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments


Adam Bryant has put together a great leadership companion with Quick and Nimble. There’s great advice on a wide range of leadership issues from Why Culture Matters to Alone at the Top. Here are several:

Why Culture Matters: A successful culture is like a green house where people and ideas can flourish—where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better way to serve customers.

A Simple Plan: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the thirteen thousand people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.” (David Barger, the CEO of JetBlue)

“We’re not a transparent culture so that we can be cool and it’s not about an open environment, because that’s not what makes a company transparent. It’s more around the fact that everyone needs to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. So we want everyone to understand our objectives and make that available to everyone as we’re evolving, so that people aren’t guessing and they’re not internally focused, because that’s one of the obstacles that a lot of companies fall into.” (Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics)

Rules of the Road: “Ideas can come from anywhere. There are no titles around an idea. As the CEO, I’m the chief editor of the company, but I want the idea to come from anybody. There’s no bureaucracy around an idea. In fact, bureaucracy around an idea is the death of an organization. I tell people all the time: If you have a great idea, and you’re passionate about it, and it makes sense, and you can’t get your boss to hear your idea, then you should leave. That’s not an organization that you’re going to thrive in.” (Steve Stoute, Translation LLC and Carol’s Daughter)

A Little Respect: “By definition if there’s leadership, it means there are followers, and you’re only as good as your followers. I believe the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold in them. It’s not how much they respect you that is most important. It’s actually how much you respect them. It’s everything.” (Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO DreamWorks Animation)

Play it Again and Again: “No matter how smart the people are that you are communicating to, the more of them there are, the dumber the collective gets. As the audience gets bigger and bigger, the bullet-point list has to be shorter and shorter, and the messages have to be simpler and simpler.” (Marcus Ryu, Guidewire)

Surfacing Problems: “I always ask, ‘Tell me one thing you really like about the company and one thing that frustrates you about the company.’ I always come out with at least one thing that is eye-opening.” (Ken Rees, CEO of Think Finance)

School Never Ends: “It’s about keeping them marketable. I encourage people: ‘Go out and find out what the market bears. You should do that and then come back and help me figure out what you need in your development that you’re not getting, because we owe that to you.’ I’ve been told by my associates that’s a countercultural approach to leadership: ‘You’re telling me to go look for another job?’ But my point is that I should be able to re-recruit them. I should be able to get them convinced that his is the best opportunity for them.” (Linda Heasley, former CEO of The Limited)

Alone at the Top: “Pacing is really important in an organization. I have in the past tended to overestimate the amount of change I can effect in the short run and then not fully appreciate the change I can effect in the long run. And so I’ve learned that it’s critical to think carefully about the pace of change, and it’s something that I’ve learned the hard way. it’s important to manage that carefully, because it’s not just about the pace of change that certain people in the company can manage. It’s about the pace of change that the company as a whole can manage. You can push and push and nothing seems to happen, and then suddenly it takes off and you’re sort of running to catch up.” (Harry West, Continuum)


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The 7 Lenses of Ethical Leadership

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments

Leading Forum

This post is by Linda Fisher Thornton the author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

Our understanding of “ethical leadership” has not been clear enough to guide us through today’s complex ethical choices. We know from recent widespread ethical lapses in the business world that some leaders do not fully consider what will happen to others when they take actions that profit them and their businesses. Without a shared definition of ethical responsibility, people make decisions based on their own varying “ethics.”

I believe that our current understanding of “ethical leadership” does not clearly describe the complexity and ethical implications of leader behaviors, and that there is an emerging clearer, bigger picture that will.

A Continuum of Perspectives

One of the reasons that it’s so difficult to learn how to lead ethically is because we are not all using the same definition of our ultimate destination. To one leader, leading ethically means carefully protecting the environment. To another, it simply means responsible profitability. To a third, it means fair labor and responsible people management practices. To a fourth, it means serving the long-term greater good.

I believe that the bigger picture of ethical leadership incorporates all of these many perspectives that seem to be at odds with each other. In our global society “ethical leadership” is actually a continuum of different perspectives. Understanding “ethical leadership” as a continuum of perspectives helps us understand our choices in a broader context.

The way we define “leading ethically” needs to be broad enough, complex enough and multi-dimensional enough to help us talk about today’s difficult choices intelligently.

Talking about these differing perspectives as part of the whole, and not competing perspectives moves the conversation forward.

A Multidimensional Framework

In 7 Lenses, I describe a clear multidimensional framework for ethical leadership that incorporates seven different perspectives on what it means to lead ethically in a global society. This framework honors organizational complexity and guides leaders through the challenge of honoring multiple stakeholders when making decisions.

7 Lenses™ of Ethical Responsibility
Profit How much money will this make?
Law How can we avoid punishment and penalties?
Character How can we demonstrate integrity, congruence and moral awareness?
People How can we respect and care for people?
Communities How can we serve communities?
Planet How can we honor life and ecosystems?
Greater Good How can we make the world better for future generations?

Only by considering all seven of these lenses do we get the full picture of our ethical leadership responsibility in a connected global society.

Starting with the Profit Lens, each lens we add to our perspective gives us a new sense of clarity about what ethical responsibility means.

Why is this ongoing learning journey so important for successful leadership? Besides responding to our moral responsibilities, proactive ethical leadership drives important business metrics and provides a competitive advantage. Forward-thinking leaders will use 7 Lenses as a learning guide on their journey to ethical leadership, and along the way, they will enjoy the many business benefits that result from bringing out the very best in their people and organizations.

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7 Lenses

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is the author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

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First Look: Leadership Books for March 2014

Posted by on Mar 4, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments

Here’s a look at some of the best leadership books to be released in March.


Low-Hanging Fruit

  Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits by Jeremy Eden and Terri Long

Beautiful Question

  A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger


  Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Centered Leadership

  Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact by Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie

Idea-Driven Organization

  The Idea-Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-Up Ideas by Alan G Robinson and Dean M Schroeder

For bulk orders call 1-800-423-8273

discounted books

Build your leadership library with these specials on over 120 titles. All titles are at least 40% off the list price and are available only in limited quantities.

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“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of the past centuries.”

— Descartes
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Culture Counts

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Leadership Now | 0 comments

Leading Forum

Corporate America has had no shortage of heroes: Kellogg, Hewlett, Disney, Packard, Kroc, Watson, Ash and Iacocca. These leaders come to mind as examples of lions that have emblazoned their names as corporate giants. But far more important than heroic reputations are the values these captains of industry personified and instilled within their organizations.

When reading the news these days, I sometimes wonder if we have completely forgotten the tenets these titans used to shape American industry. While it is true that history can both illuminate and obfuscate, we would do well to remember the past in the case of these great examples.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of spending a summer at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago as a PhRMA Fellow. There I observed a wide array of Abbott executives, scientists and managers. I was struck not only by their disciplined approach but also by their freedom to discover, develop and design within broad operating parameters—conditions I did not typically associate with large, for-profit corporations. It was there that I first became fascinated with the question “what makes a successful organization.”

As a manager “on loan” to Abbott from the University of Michigan, I quickly found similarities between the two organizations. While it may be better known to some for its legendary football, winged helmets and “Hail to the Victors” fight song, Michigan, much like Abbott Laboratories, is one of the world’s premier research institutions where scientific rigor, intellectual freedom and disciplined scholarship thrive in a lively, entrepreneurial and decentralized university environment. I realized then that the same core principles could apply regardless of industry.

Perhaps the most crucial linking pin connecting great leaders and their vision is the personal value system they demonstrate and teach to others which becomes ingrained in the fabric of the firm, the so-called “corporate culture.” Today’s best leaders realize that a strong corporate culture is the glue which unites people and provides them with a raison d’ etre that’s bigger than any product or service. Profit is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the paramount goal. Results from a seven-year study conducted by the Workplace Research Foundation and University of Michigan investigator Palmer Morrel-Samuels, as reported recently in Forbes, confirmed that, as employee morale improves, a firm’s stock price enjoys higher returns.

Undeniably, today’s global marketplace is a far cry from the insular corporate environment of the past. Perhaps two of the biggest barriers today to establishing and perpetuating an enduring corporate culture are:

  • excessive CEO and executive compensation packages, reflective of greed and a short-term mindset; and
  • a workforce comprised of increasing numbers of younger employees who do not often remain at a company for more than a few years.

When a widening gulf in salaries and benefits between the top and bottom ranks of an organization exceeds acceptable bounds, employees are less likely to feel a need to work harder, let alone possess the sense of loyalty, responsibility and trust needed to help solve a company’s most pressing challenges. They will often point to the C-suite where executive perks and bonuses are out of control and say “Let them solve it!” As companies have had to cut costs to survive and, as result, expect remaining employees to pick up the slack, the disparity in compensation has become a battle cry across the business landscape that is now reverberating in the halls of Congress.

The younger workforce presents challenges as well. This generation is far less enamored by traditional organizations and is more independent than any that came before. They can pose major challenges for today’s managers, especially if those managers are part of a different generation. New forms of stimulus and incentives should be created to appeal to these technologically savvy, bright and environmentally conscious young minds. Presenting more stimulating assignments, frequent two-way dialogue and company-supported affinity groups can help achieve this.

The values of many former great leaders were forged by the experiences of the Great Depression, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and humble beginnings. They understood the impact that a strong, adaptive corporate culture has on organizational performance, the true mark of leadership.

They treated workers as their greatest asset, investing in and motivating them. They understood that the purpose of business was to serve the customer. They expected high standards for employee behavior which they themselves modeled and reinforced.

Perhaps if today’s business leaders took a page from history, their companies would achieve the success created by the enlightened leadership of past corporate giants. And that would be a good thing.

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Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D. (Michigan), is president of Eich Associated, a marketing and public relations consulting firm. He is the author of numerous publications in the field of leadership, organizational behavior and management. He is the former Chief of News and Public Affairs at Stanford University Medical Center and is the author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss (Career Press, 2012) and Leadership Requires Extra Innings (with Second City Publishing Services, 2013).

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