Are You Asking the Right Questions?

It is so important for leaders to make sure they are asking the right questions. I believe Steve Keating did a great job expressing how important it is to ask the right questions. The biggest take away, “Can you invest critically important time with your people to ask the right questions?” One of the foundational words in leadership: Invest!

Lead Today

When you ask the right questions you receive much better answers in return. I mention that because it’s very challenging to lead people that you do not know. Knowing them requires consistent communication with them and questions are one of the most effective communication tools a leader has.

If.

If they are asking the right questions. As a leader one of your primary responsibilities is to help your people grow. To grow into their potential, to grow into their goals, and to grow into a leader, if that is one of their goals.

Most leaders would agree with all that but here’s the problem. Too few leaders have asked the people they lead any of the questions that would help them understand the goals of their people. Too few leaders ask their people how they can help them stay motivated long enough to reach their potential.

As Clarence the Angel…

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Who Are Your Heroes?

Growing up, we look up to mythical and make believe characters. We imagine ourselves as Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and if you were like me, Rambo; who doesn’t like running around shooting guns and bow and arrows and taking out bad guys. As children, our heroes represent what we wish we could do or be, and they play on our imagination. The older we get, the more real our heroes become. As teenagers, our hero’s are pop stars, sports stars, and celebrities. As adults, our heroes might be political leaders, authors, and/or people we may know or who are close to us. Ultimately, we look at people and notice things about them that we want to immulate. As a leader, it is good to have heroes. They show us qualities that we want to immulate, they give us examples we want to follow, and they give us a sense of ownership for our actions. 

I have many people I look to for examples of good leadership, but there are three individuals that mean the most to me. These three individuals have taught me significant lessons in what characteristics make up great leadership. In no particular order, the three people are Bud Corbus, Alan Bermensolo, and my father, Kelly Wallaert. Each man has taught me something about leadership that I will never forget.

Bud Corbus is a man of few words, which is a quality I truly appreciate. He speaks only when he feels it’s time to speak, and when he speaks, you better listen. He is never demeaning in his speech, nor does he make people feel less than him. One of the greatest qualities I have observed in Bud is to be still. Bud does not act hastily or out of emotion. If something happens, or he is presented with a problem, Bud will take time to gather all important information and facts before any decisions are made. He listens intently, and many times can be found taking notes as someone is talking with him. Bud will not make decisions on a whim, but rather takes whatever time is needed to ensure the decision that is made is in the best interest of all parties involved. Bud does not care about fame or being the center of attention. He cares about his employees, his crew, and those he leads. He cares about their safety, well-being, and wants nothing but the best for everyone. He is a good man, and an even greater leader. I have great respect and admiration for Bud Corbus and the example he sets as a leader

Alan Bermensolo is a man of personal responsibility, honor, and loyalty. Alan was the Chief of the Mountain Home Fire Department when I first joined the department. As a rookie in the department, Alan shared something with me that will stick with me forever. One day during a department meeting Alan said, “When things go well, I will make sure you get all the praise. When things go bad, I will make sure I take the blame. If you fail at something in this department, it is because I failed you as a leader.” He explained that our failure could be due to a lack of training in a certain area or not enough support. Alan knew what it meant to be a leader. He never placed blamed, never pointed fingers, and never made excuses. He stuck to his words and showed loyalty, honor, and responsibility as a leader. He would go to bat for anyone, and took all the blame when things went badly. He genuinely cared for his firefighters and their safety. He cared about them as individuals. He would invest into each members’ life and speak positively into their life. Alan Bermensolo has shown me what loyalty, honor, and responsibility as a leader looks like and sounds like.

Kelly Wallaert is a man I have had the pleasure of knowing my whole life. He has shown me what hard work and dedication looks like. He didn’t grow up with the greatest of examples in his life, and when it came to being a father to me, he did his best and strived hard to do better than the examples he had growing up. I will admit, I was not an easy son to be a father to. I made plenty of mistakes and should have been whooped a lot more than I was. My father and I had a rocky relationship when I hit my teenage years, and that rocky relationship lasted until I got married at the age of 25. Today, I am blessed to have the father that I do. There is one quality in my father that I admire greatly. My dad is the perfect example of what real, active listening looks like. When I speak to my dad about anything, he makes me feel like he genuinely cares about what I am saying. He doesn’t try to fix my problems, but listens intently; wanting to truly understand what I am saying. He offers suggestions and ideas only when asked, and he asks questions to seek a deeper meaning in the conversation. He maintains eye contact, doesn’t allow outside distraction to deter his attention, and stays focused on every word I say. Kelly Wallaert has shown me the power of real, true, active listening. He has shown me how genuinely listening makes the other person feel.  

These three men have been a staple in my understanding and building of my own leadership ideals. Each one has shown characteristics that make great leaders. I respect and appreciate each one of them. They have hearts willing to do the right thing and actions that prove it. Are they perfect? No. Do they try to be the best versions of themselves? I believe they do. If we wait for the perfect leader, we will be waiting for a long time. The perfect human leader doesn’t exist. Every leader struggles, but how a leader conducts themselves both publicly and privately is what defines their effectiveness as a leader. All three men I mentioned have made mistakes, they have had their failures, but each man has risen above their mistakes and have become stronger, more effective leaders because of it. 

Who are your heroes? What qualities do you look for in leadership? Do you have people in your life that can speak into your life and encourage leadership qualities in you? I encourage you to take an inventory of your heroes and write a list of qualities that you see in them that help you become a better leader, or even more, a better human being.

The Need To “Be Still” In Leadership

A leader is faced with multiple situations, decisions to make, and people to consider on a daily basis. Through the chaos of leadership it is crucial that leaders learn and practice being still. Being still allows for clarity of mind, understanding, the opportunity to think before acting. Being still can take on many forms, and those forms depend on each individual. The important part is that leaders take time to pause and be still. 

Being still forces someone to think before they act. This is a vital characteristic when in leadership. When employees, patrons, customers, or higher up leadership shares frustrations, concerns, questions, or whatever, instead of giving an immediate response based on emotions and feelings, the power of being still allows for leaders to think through the decision making process. What is the best response that can be given in a highly emotional situation? Decisions made on emotions and feelings tend to lead to rifts in relationships, shortcuts, and negative outcomes for organizations. Being still, thinking through decisions allows for a more logical and well thought out response. It allows for relationships to be mended, progress to be made, and the overall health of the organization to flourish.

Being still allows leaders to put the focus on the most important part of any organization; those that make up said organization. David Novak, cofounder, retired chairman, and CEO of Yum! Brands, stated in his book Taking People With You, “Who you choose to recognize has a real effect; it differentiates people, motivates them, and shows those who didn’t get recognized what it takes to get ahead.” Decisions made on the whim can give a bad impression and set a negative precedence for the organization. Being still allows for leadership to truly consider what is most important for the organization, what is wanted from those they lead, and how to best support individuals in the organization. Afterall, leadership should be about serving those you lead and helping them reach their full potential. 

One of the most important aspects of being still is focus on self awareness and provides time for mental and emotional health. Leaders who do not take care of themselves cannot take care of those they lead. With the pressures of leadership constantly bombarding leaders, maintaining positive mental and emotional health is crucial. There are a myriad of health concerns that can happen when leaders do not take the time to take care of their own mental health. If leaders do not take the time to be still and take care of themselves, then they will fail at taking care of those they lead. 

Before you make a critical decision, before you give a response in a heated discussion, before you lose yourself in your work, step back and learn to be still. Lead with purpose and care. Don’t allow the rush and pressure of leadership force you to make a potential decision that will hurt the organization, those you lead, or most importantly yourself. 

“BE STILL”

The Keys To Success In Leadership

We live in a world where hurry is encouraged, timelines must be met, and the busyness of life determines our overall success. It seems that the busier we are, the more successful we appear to be. I find this to be detrimental to strong, effective leadership. A hurried and busy leader creates more strain on an organization and on those they are leading. The busy and hurried leader runs the risks of missing important aspects of an organization and making critical mistakes that might potentially harm the organization, or, the most important piece of an organization, the individuals who make it up. There are three keys, I believe, that lead to successful leadership.

The first key to leadership success is to slow down. When we are caught up in the hussle and the bustle of work, timelines, and mandates, we miss out on what’s really important, building strong, positive relationships with those we lead. As Greg Mortenson wrote, “Slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.” Relationship is everything when it comes to leadership. When we focus our attention on what really matters, productivity increases, morale goes up, and a positive culture is created. Slowing down means leaders are there to support, encourage, and serve those they lead. Leaders do not lead companies or organizations. Leaders lead people. If leaders are too busy to invest, support, and encourage those they lead, then they are not leaders. Afterall, leadership is how we treat others.

The second key to leadership success is to pay attention. Too often people in leadership get caught up in the money, bureaucracy, and the “title” and completely forget to pay attention to what is most important. When leadership stops paying attention to the hard working individuals within their company or organization, employees become expendable. Paying attention to what employees are saying, wanting, needing, etc. is crucial to the growth and morale of any company and organization. To reference Colin Powell, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Leadership must make a conscious effort to pay attention to those they lead. This means listening to, engaging with, and being in the trenches with those they lead. 

The third key to leadership success is to focus on detail. If you ask any Navy Seal, Special Forces, or high ranking military officer, they will all tell you how vital the details are. Missing details means making grave mistakes; potentially jeopardizing the company or organization. Dan Crenshaw, in his book Fortitude, states, “Details matter. Ignoring them can be the difference between success and failure.”  It is critical for leaders to focus on the details, not just in planning, but in listening and observing staff. Focusing on details means you are paying attention to what matters most. John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”  It’s the hard working individuals of the company that make big things happen. Focusing on detail is, in my opinion, the most critical keys to success in leadership. 

There are many more keys to successful leadership, but I believe starting with these three will begin to refocus the mindset of leaders. Slow down, pay attention, and focus on detail. Who we lead is much more important than what we lead. Never forget, leadership is not a title or a position. Leadership is about how we treat those around us. Invest in those you lead, and you will have a team and a family willing to work WITH you.

The Key Element of Leadership

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have called this meeting to share something important with you. I made a mistake as a leader, and I want to apologize. I humbly ask that you would forgive me for not focusing on what’s most important in this organization. I want to be better, and ask that you would help me become a better leader for this team.” Have you ever sat through a meeting like this? How would you feel if you were an employee of a company whose leadership responded to mistakes like this? 

We have a major problem in today’s society. I have noticed that people in leadership view humility as weakness. This thinking is absolutely wrong. Humility is a source of strength and one of the most important elements in leadership. If you do a quick Google search for quotes on humility, you will find many great men express the need and importance of humility. One of my favorites is from Thomas Merton, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” When leadership allows for their humanity to show through, those who follow will have more respect in their leadership abilities. Humility is a characteristic that shows strength and a willingness to become better.

John Dalberg-Action said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This has been proven time and time again throughout history. The purpose of this quote is to express that people who hold power over things or others ultimately become corrupt. However, there is a way to withstand corruption, and the answer lies in humility. Humility is what separates successful leaders from failing ones. When we choose to not hold ourselves accountable for our actions and choices, we have made the decision that we are infallible and eventually lie to ourselves to make excuses for our actions. Humility is the key element to strong, honest leadership. 

Humility is not just owning our mistakes and failures. It is also about how we see and treat others. One of my favorite authors and speakers on the subject of leadership, Simon Sinek, once stated, “Humility, I have learned, must never be confused with meekness. Humility is being open to the ideas of others.” When we welcome the ideas and perspectives of others, and openly accept them, we are showing those around us that they matter. Leadership should never be about being the smartest person in the room. In fact, strong leadership gives credit and admiration where it is due. Leadership is not about being in the limelight, but rather putting others in the limelight who deserve to be there.

A large piece in the foundation of leadership is admitting to faults, mistakes, and errors. Humility is what allows others to trust and believe those in leadership. Treating others with respect, and valuing their opinions and perspective, promotes community and builds a lasting organization. Humility is not a weakness, and it is not something that should be feared. Humility is a characteristic that should be a staple in all leaders.

The Power Of Perspectives In Leadership

Earnest Hemingway once said, “When people talk, listen completely.” This must be one of the cornerstones to leadership. Leaders who listen to those they lead will grow strong, successful organizations and businesses. There is great power in encouraging and listening to multiple perspectives as a leader. Leadership that listens completely to what people on their team are saying, will create an environment of respect and stability. A team is only as good as their weakest member. A leader who closes their minds to others’ perspectives, thoughts, and concerns, and chooses to not listen completely runs the risk of being the weakest member. 

The success of an organization or business can easily be determined by who leadership chooses to surround themselves with. Mark Ambrose once stated, “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you your future.” Who we associate with and allow into our circle of influence will have a significant impact on our success. American entrepreneur and author, Jim Rohn, said, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with. Choose carefully.” Leaders must choose carefully who they spend time with, who they listen to, and who they are influenced by. Leaders must choose carefully who they surround themselves with. However, this is where I might become a little more unconventional.

I do not believe leaders should surround themselves with conformists. Another term for these people would be, “Yes Men.” If leadership is surrounded by individuals who constantly say, “Okay” or “Yes”, without questioning motives, purpose, and direction, then leadership is at risk of running the ship aground. Strong, effective leadership keeps an open mind, welcomes questions and concerns, and allows the freedom of all individuals to express opinions, ideas, and thoughts about motives, purpose, and direction. Any organization or business that closes the door to others’ thinking or perspectives, is an organization or business that will not last.

It is crucial that leadership listens and takes heed to multiple perspectives. I have personally found that a plan can be missing multiple details and considerations, and without allowing others to share their opinions and thoughts about the plan, the plan might not have been successful. Leadership should surround themselves with people who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas freely and openly. Leadership should also keep an open mind and listen intently to all perspectives.

Eric Sheninger, a school principal, said it well when he said, “Effective leaders rely on the expertise of others regardless of where they are in the organizational hierarchy.” Smart, effective leaders are ones who allow others to be smarter than them, listens to wisdom and council regardless of position or age, and actively listens to their team. Perspective is everything. And when we deny the opportunity for others to share their perspectives, we close our minds to opportunity, wisdom, and possibly success. Lead in a way that welcomes the perspectives of those you lead. 

Leadership Is A Way of Life

John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  I truly believe this should be the foundation for all leadership. I also believe this should quickly be followed with, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another” (John C. Maxwell). I truly believe leadership is about listening, learning, and lifting others up. This is why leadership is not a position one holds, but rather a way of life. It is a person who others would follow naturally, not because of a title.

People who feel valued and respected will follow leadership wholeheartedly. The question then becomes, how does leadership help others feel valued and respected? I believe value and respect should be one in the same. For example, I value my wife, and because I value her, I will do everything I can to show her respect by how I treat her. Value and respect are shown by how we treat something or someone. Consider the following: You buy a new car. You have high expectations about eating in the car, tracking mud in the car, and how others treat your car. You might even decide that you will park 3 or 4 spaces down from other cars so that you do not risk getting a ding on the side. Ultimately, you value your car and want to respect it because of its newness. But what happens after a while? The newness wears off, and your respect for the car also wears off. In fact, you might think it’s time for another new car. There are many examples I could use, but the point is, when something is new, we respect and value it more, but as time wears on, our respect and value seem to diminish. 

Because respect and value diminish over time, it is vital that leadership is in a constant state of reflection. Leadership is not perfect by any means, and people in leadership make plenty of mistakes, but it is what we do with our mistakes that determines our character as a leader. Another one of my favorite quotes relates very well with this, “Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous” (Confucious). In other words, we must always be in a state of reflection and be willing to learn from mistakes and errors. Learning is the process of trying and failing over and over to reach a desired goal. Notice, learning is a process. This is why “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  Leadership will not get it right on the first try, and if they do, it is a rare event. However, true leadership will reflect on choices and decisions, determine what was done well and what wasn’t, and then make changes to their way of thinking, their attitude, and their mindset. Afterall, leadership is the example everyone is looking at. 

Did you catch the important piece of leadership that I mentioned above? Leadership makes changes…to THEIR way of thinking, THEIR attitude, and THEIR mindset. You see, leadership is not about forcing others to think and believe the same way you do. That way of thinking is dangerous. If you don’t believe me, check out the German leader of WWII, or the tyrant king of England between 1760 and 1776. Leadership must constantly have an open mind, be willing to listen to those they are leading, and most importantly, be humble enough to admit fault and wrong doing. I believe this is part of showing value and respect to others. Nobody likes or respects someone who thinks they are always right. Nobody listens to someone who won’t listen to them. Nobody will follow a leader who is unwilling to admit mistakes, take responsibility, and make changes to correct THEIR behavior. Leadership is not a position, it is a way of life.

Ultimately, leadership is about how we treat others. Are we willing to listen with an open mind? Are we willing to humbly admit faults and mistakes? Are we willing to learn from our faults and failures and make changes to OUR way of thinking and living? Do we see ourselves as someone who must be followed, or someone who is ready to serve and help others? Leadership is a direct reflection of your character. As you lead, determine what kind of character you are leading with.