The Leader is a Virtuoso Question Asker

1 Comment October 29, 2007 / Posted in Mindful Leadership

That statement about the leader needs to be a virtuoso question asker was gleaned from Lee Thayer back in the mid-80’s and has served me well and also the executives I’ve been privileged and honored to work with.

A fellow Vistage Chair and friend left being a Chair almost a year ago after seven and a half years. His work and his commitments were demanding so much more of his time and energy. He made a tough and difficult decision to grow and work on himself and his professional growth and development.

While being a Chair can be financially rewarding, the component that attracts and keeps most Chairs, this is my belief, in the work of helping leaders grow personally and professionally is that it is a calling: a vocation. Many may not realize it at the time. However, when you are influenced by fellow Chairs from all over the world who have truly lead their own lives of leadership, it becomes an Odyssey in the truest sense. It is a stripping away of ready answers, learned responses, automatic reflexive thinking and knowing, especially knowing. We are caught in our knowing. Just ask people in the US what color a yield sign is and the majority will say yellow, even though it hasn’t been since 1988 when the US adopted the International Signage Code.

It is not about having the answers. It is about asking the important questions, the questions that touch one’s core, the questions where one grows, the questions which challenge one’s projections onto others, the questions that ask more than what the individual thinks they are capable of, the questions where I am confronted about how I think and who I am.

It is about meaning, and wholeness, and acknowledging that statement from Terence: Nothing human is alien to me. The questions help me connect to myself, to my fellow man, and especially to those parts of me that I deny or project upon others so that I won’t have to deal with it myself.

The role of the leader is to create connectedness. And one of those tools that s/he hones is the skill of becoming a virtuoso question asker. My friend and former Chair is Corey Olynik. He is one of those virtuoso question askers.

Corey has been sharing his questions for over 7 years. You can get his weekly question, as he says, to challenge your thinking, focus your thoughts in new directions and help you grow as a transformational leader. You can sign up for his LifeQues for Leaders that arrives in your Monday morning email.

This is what he shared with us his fellow Chairs in his email: A Parting Gift to My Friends. One gift that resonated with me, and I’ll talk about later, is the work of Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations where she borrowed a concept from David Whyte that is one of her three Big Ideas: The Conversation is the Relationship.

Greetings friends – this is a tough letter to write. Last Thursday was my last TEC meeting; I have one more many-times-delayed 1-2-1 and then I wave goodbye to my life of the past 7.5 years. I’ve loved it all, almost. The members, the speakers, my local colleagues, our worldwide tribe. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss the inspiring dialogue here on ChairNet, I’ll miss the trainings and the conferences. I’ll miss the questions, I’ll miss Ozzie’s wisdom.

Like so many members and Chairs, I’ve had too much on my plate lately. I’ve decided to concentrate on my work with high-potential leaders in the non-profit world as well as my speaking efforts. My book is opening some doors that I have often dreamed about. So, life is great; just, parting is tough.

I was blessed to have Walt Sutton as the speaker for my final meeting. What a way to go! He was his usual energetic and inspiring self which has led me to this email today. He has such an amazing list of tools for our members (and us too) that I know I can’t leave the tribe without sharing a few of the Chairing tools I’ve picked up, invented, borrowed or stolen along the way. So, in the tradition of sharing what we have, what we know and what matters to us, here is a sampling of the tools I find valuable and approaches I think many Chairs might benefit from.

1. The Rule of Sixes and Nines – I got this 5-6 years ago from a former member and have modified it and used it for years. Ask your members to mentally go through their team members every month or two and give each a gut-feel rating between 1 and 10; the only rule is that they can only give 6s or 9s. There are no 7s or 8s or 8.5s allowed. They must choose 6 or 9. Look at your 9s and think about how you might further empower them, resource them, challenge them, etc. Then, decide if you have any “Terminal Sixes” (6s that can never be 9s) and act accordingly. Rarely will you have a job where a Teminal Six is acceptable. With the rest of your 6s, look at yourself….again….look at yourself…and decide what you can do to move them to nine. Do they need training, do they need resources, do they need freedom or direction, are they sitting in the right seat, etc.? And start. This exercise is great; my groups constantly raise an issue by saying, “I have this six heading up my marketing dept” or whatever. (The one additional thing to remember is that you can never have a 9 reporting to a 6. You’ll lose the 9 one way or the other.)

2. The Conversation is the Relationship – Susan Scott borrowed this idea from David Whyte. (Please watch the David Whyte video from the Chair Conference in 98 or 99; it is amazing). When we believe that “the conversation is the relationship” we have a tool to evaluate relationships – look at the dialogue that occurs. Work on it. This shines a new light on so much.

3. Covey’s Four Quadrants – This tool helps in so many ways. Write what’s important and not-important down one side, and what’s urgent and not-urgent across the other axis. Use this tool to show them how they spend the bulk of their bandwidth on the Urgent side, both Important and Not-Important, with a view to discussing how they can spend significant energy in the Not-Urgent but Important Quadrant. When you draw it for them it often registers with more power than when you merely talk about it.

4. Appointment with Yourself – many members say they can’t find time for what’s important. I encourage them to make an appointment with themself when something needs their undivided attention. Block off 90 minutes to do the task, and I ask them to treat that time as sacred as an appointment with me. No phones, no emails, just do the work. This accomplishes two things: it gets the work done, and it removes the anxiety that surrounds something that’s undone because they know they will get it done on Tuesday (or whenever the appointment is set for).

One final thing. READ. Read anything and everything. Interestingly enough, the periodical that has shaped my Chairing the most is “Writer’s Digest” because it has helped me as I use the language (our most important tool) and it has taught me brevity and clarity. The world can use more of that.

I’ve got lots more but I’d better quit and get some work done today. Please keep in touch. Visit my website to find out a bit more: coreyolynik.com.

As I tearfully said at the end of the meeting Thursday, “I just don’t want to sit down.” That’s the way I feel now. Thank you for everything. I’ll always be a Chair. Corey

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