Grow your Leadership Tree with four power questions

Jim Blasingame

Most agree that there are many traits of an effective leader, including competent, professional, visionary, trustworthy, confident, a communicator and, of course, courageous.

But great leaders are set apart further by three other qualities.

1. Servant-leadership. In the 21st-century marketplace, the prime devotion of great leaders is to their people because they know it's through engaged, high-functioning teams that their own goals are achieved.

2. Honest curiosity. This quality has two parts that are as inextricable as the sides of a coin: 1) A great leader is devoted to asking questions, and 2) they listen.

3. Mentor mentality. The most successful and beloved leaders I've known had a trait that's often overlooked: They mentored their people to become leaders. Great NFL coaches like Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry, and Bill Parcels became legendary through the subsequent performance of the coaches they mentored. It's called the Coaching Tree.

In that spirit, allow me to introduce the concept of a Leadership Tree.

Would you like to become a great leader – even legendary? Would you like to build your own Leadership Tree? Well, in addition to demonstrating the leadership traits just identified, commit to asking what I call the four cardinal leadership questions. The first two are from the book, What Motivates Me, by my friend and Brain Trust member, Chester Elton. And the last two are mine.  

How're you doing?
Chester says this isn't a drive-by question. It's a look 'em in the eye, "I've got time to listen" question. The leader has to be "in the moment" with the other person. Answers are not pre-supposed – might be about their job, their aspirations, or their personal life. Great leaders care about all of that.

How can I help?
Chester says this leadership question creates a safe environment. A manager/mentor once told me, "If you're in trouble in your job, don't go down by yourself. Get me involved early and let me help you get out of trouble." Great leaders want others to succeed. They want you to win.

What do you think?
I call this the Leader's Power Question and it produces two kinds of fruit: 1) few things cultivate the elusive engagement factor more than when the boss asks the opinion of an employee; 2) diverse input almost always spouts green shoots. Great leaders know that they don't have all the answers, or ideas.

What did we learn?
I call this the Leader's Magic Question, and it may be the four most important words in management. Surely, redemption is the most human behavior a leader can demonstrate. And the most powerful mentoring moment happens after a team member makes a mistake while taking initiative and the leader says, "Okay, we know what happened," then redeems him with, "What did we learn?" That's how great leaders use their power.

Employees come and go. Those who stay become part of your Leadership Tree which your company continues to benefit from. And when a mentee fledges and moves on to lead successfully elsewhere, they become part of your legacy, as a branch of your Leadership Tree.

Write this on a rock ... Become a legendary leader – create your own Leadership Tree.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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