How to ask Great Questions (and Listen Actively)

I’ve been on my first long distance travels for the last 2 years. I am in Montevideo, Uruguay this week teaching at IEEM Business School. I’ve been coming here for the last 12 years (last year was a virtual visit via zoom). Many of my classes this week finished with participants commenting on the importance of listening to others before jumping to conclusions. A big part of listening is learning to ask great questions.

There are several good frameworks to structure your questions… one good framework is this one from RAIN sales. A longer explanation of their framework and approach to questions in the context of sales training is available in this pdf: Keys to Leading Masterful Sales Conversations (pdf from the RAIN group).

The 4 levels of Questions

The 4 levels of questions are listed and described below:

  1. Facts – questions about what is basically true for us both and we can agree upon.
  2. Opinions – questions about the other person’s opinion about the facts, the trends in the facts, what is important about the facts, what does it mean, who else is affected.
  3. Impact – questions about the short, medium and long term impact if we do or do not take action. The secret to a good impact question? it has the word “impact” in it.
  4. Change – questions about what it would be worth to achieve a change, what actions we are willing to commit to, what it would be worth to us if we could achieve a better future.

Here’s a list of 50 great sales questions divided into these 4 types of question from the RAIN Group blog.

If you liked this post, you will also like How to Take Better Business Decisions: 50 Great Questions for Critical Thinking and Jim Collins: How to Build an Enduring Great Company (12 Questions for Leaders).

Postcards from Montevideo

A few more images of my adventures in Montevideo

What do excellent CEOs do? (according to McKinsey research)

A company has only one ultimate decision maker: the CEO.

The CEO is the only person in a company without peers. No other individual holds such a full and final responsibility for the company. The CEO is the most powerful and sought-after title in business, more influential than any other. The CEO takes the company’s biggest decisions. These decisions account for 45% of a company’s performance.

This power and influence comes with a heavy burden.

The role of CEO can be all-consuming, lonely, and stressful. Just 3 out of 5 new CEOs live up to expectations in their first 18 months… and many CEOs struggle with their quality of life (health, family relationships, friendships) in the face of the pressures they face.

I run Vistage in Spain. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO coaching organisation. Over more than 60 years, Vistage has worked closely with CEOs to take and implement better decisions which enhance their performance and increase their quality of life.

The following post draws heavily from a recent McKinsey article “The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs“.

The Biggest regret of CEOs

I spend time with hundreds of CEOs each year. They are good people and they want the best for the good people around them. This makes it extremely personally challenging for them to deal with underperformance. They like the people around them. They want to give them lots of opportunities. They feel that it is a personal failure when someone close to them repeatedly underperforms expectations. They give more time. They allow for environmental factors. They wait and hope.

The single biggest regret of CEOs is not dealing quickly with underperformance.

In my work with CEOs through Vistage, over half of all of our work is about the current and future performance of the people and teams that surround the CEO. We challenge CEOs to stop waiting for underperformance to fix itself.

The Differentiator between Great and Good CEOs

According to McKinsey, the distinction between good CEOs and the great CEOs is the ability to focus.

Great CEOs place “big bets”. They focus on the top 3-5 most important initiatives. They dedicate 90% of their time, energy, resources to the 5 most important projects. They say “no” often. They don’t allow their time to fill up with many different activities and different priorities.

The Good CEOs avoided this level of focus. Their prioritisation of what is truly important is less clear. They are involved in many initiatives. They allow their agenda to fill up and try dedicate a couple of hours each week to the most important projects. They try to fit the important initiatives in around their “day job” of running the company.

The Great CEO has delegated the running of the company to an effective leadership team. They have made themselves unnecessary for operating the company today, so they can dedicate themselves to building the company of the future.

Jeff Bezos says that he spends 5% of his time running the company, and 95% of his time building the future company.

The Job of the Great CEO (according to McKinsey)

What specific behaviours can make current CEOs most effective? This is a summary of the McKinsey article linked above.

The Great CEO’s job has 6 main elements.

  1. Setting the Strategy
  2. Aligning the Organization
  3. Leading the Top Team
  4. Working with the Board
  5. Being the face of the company to external stakeholders
  6. Managing one’s own Time and Energy

1. Setting The Strategy

Objective: Focus on Beating the odds…

  1. Vision: reframe what winning means, where do we want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years?
  2. Strategy: make bold moves early
  3. Resource allocation: stay active, top performers actively & quickly move resources to their strengths

2. Organisational Alignment

Objective: Manage Performance and Health

  1. Talent: match talent to value
  2. Culture: go beyond employee engagement
  3. Organisational design: combine speed with stability

3. Leading the Top Team

Objective: Put dynamics ahead of mechanics

  1. Teamwork: show resolve
  2. Decision making: defend against biases
  3. Management processes: ensure coherence

4. Board Engagement

Objective: Help directors to help the business

  1. Effectiveness: promote a forward looking agenda
  2. Relationships: think beyond the meeting
  3. Capabilities: seek balance and development

5. Being the face of the company

Objective: Center on the long-term “Why?”

  1. Social purpose: look at the big picture
  2. Interactions: prioritize and shape
  3. Moments of Truth: build resilience ahead of a crisis

6. Managing one’s own time and energy

Objective: Do what only you can doceo

  1. Office: manage time and energy
  2. Leadership model: choose authenticity
  3. Perspective: guard against hubris

If you liked this post, you will also like The CEO’s Guide to Boards and The CEO’s 7 Leadership Laws During Times of Uncertainty.

Photo credit: fauxels on Pexels.com, Liza Summer on Pexels.com, SplitShire on Pexels.com

Great Strategy without Great People is nothing

Ideas + Capital + Talent = enduring great business.

Ideas are everywhere, nothing special about an idea.

Capital is plentiful for those who have proven themselves. Today there is so much capital sloshing around looking for moderate returns.

The Scarce Resource…

Talent, true talent… is rare.

Talent isn’t potential. Talent is systematic repeated high performance over years or decades. This is extremely rare.

Potential talent looking for capital will not find it. Capital doesn’t invest in testing talent… capital invests in proven talent.

How do you become “proven talent”?

That is the question.

How to Build an Entrepreneurial Dream Team

As an entrepreneur, a CEO or business leader, one of your most important roles is to build a leadership team. Who do you need in the team for long term success?

Who is on your Leadership Team?

The video below clarifies the 8 profiles that are necessary for a business to start, scale up and become a long term great company. This is a tool I have shared with many Entrepreneurs over the years, and finally I got around to making a YouTube version.

The 8 Roles needed for An Entrepreneurial Dream Team

  • Visionary
  • Mechanic
  • Marketer
  • Networker
  • Manager
  • Banker
  • Investor
  • Baron (Cash Controller)

Further videos and posts on building an effective team

Improving your Strengths or Improving your Weaknesses

You cannot win the marathon by sprinting.

The winner of the 100m in the Olympics might also win the 200m, but will never be competitive in the 10K… or marathon …or rowing, or judo…

Gold medal athletes focus on their strengths and work to amplify their strengths. Usain Bolt doesn’t spend training time trying to improve his long distance capacity. He works on his start, on acceleration, on sprinting and finishing. He works on his strengths.

Recently I’ve felt a lot of pressure to spend time on areas that for me are weaknesses. I am writing this blog post mainly as a reminder to myself to stay strong, and accept these weaknesses. As a leader, I am responsable for making sure there are people and systems around me so that our business doesn’t have weaknesses… but it is not me that should spend time in areas where I am weak.

Dan Sullivan on working on your strengths

If you work throughout your life on improving your weaknesses, what you get are a lot of really strong weaknesses.

Dan Sullivan

In order to do well in school, you need to get good grades in all the subjects. If you are good at sports when you are 12 or 15, you are probably the best at most of the sports you try.

I did well in school. It became painful for me to not get good grades… in any subject… even the ones that I really didn’t care about.

In business (and professional sports), you do well by being really good in one subject. In order to be excellent, you need to deliberately choose to be bad in almost everything else.

I am good at some things, I am not good at lots of things. A lot of the people around me are great at letting me know what I’m not doing so well… I have to stay mindful in order to not get drawn into trying to spend effort improving my weaknesses.

Stephen King says “I was lucky. I was born only good at one thing. Imagine how hard it is for people who are good at 2 things… or what is truly difficult… being good at most things.” (I paraphrase as I can’t currently find the original quote)

Are you working on your strengths?

If you liked this post, you will also like Managing Oneself and Meaningful Contribution.

Deleting Instagram, Facebook and Twitter from my phone

On returning from the summer holidays, iPhone Screen Time showed that I had used my phone for over 4 hours a day.

I hated this idea. That 4 full hours each day in some way were glued to a small screen. There is plenty of facetime calls and zoom calls… but a large portion has become the mindless scrolling down through instagram in particular.

I immediately deleted instagram, facebook and twitter from my phone. I left some of the other apps that were getting a lot of use: WhatsApp, Chrome, Linkedin, Chess.com, YouTube.

It has been a week without Instagram, facebook and twitter. I have not noticed missing anything. I got a couple of emails from instagram saying “you have 3 new messages” – but I can still see instagram when I am at my laptop so it is not that I have left completely.

This week’s iphone usage…

Screen time this week is down 27% from last week (and down over 45% from my peak distraction week!)

It is still pretty high.

…and it is such a powerful distraction.

I pick up my phone to do 1 thing – make a call, send a message… and then spend 10-20 minutes doing a cycle through a couple of apps… I am addicted to deliberate distraction.

I tell myself that I have discipline. I have spent a lot of the last decade working on using time intentionally and effectively… and I am not able to cope with an iphone.

I worry for humanity.

If this distraction were making us kinder, better, more informed, more worldly-wise then this would be a gift. These distractions are not making me kinder… if anything more impatient and rude to those around me.

I have decided that I have a problem. I am addicted. I do not have intentional control over my usage of this device.

It has so many useful features that make my life better – the camera and video in my pocket, google maps is brilliant, facetime with family has been wonderful during Covid times, whatsapp allows coordination of groups and meetings… I will not be getting rid of the iphone.

I will be honest with myself and say that I am not in conscious control of my usage and I need to set limits for myself.

I don’t like admitting it, but I guess this is an addiction.

I don’t like the idea of being controlled by a little device.

…but I am not capable of using it… it uses me.

Stress, Pressure and Focussing on What you Actually Control

It has been a busy summer of high performance – in particular the Tokyo Olympics. There were 2 interviews with athletes that really struck me for the perspectives they were taking towards their performance and results. The video below shares these two healthy mental approaches to life.

Pressure vs Stress

The first interview was with US swimmer Caleb Dressel. The journalist asked how he coped with the pressure. His answer “Pressure… there is nothing wrong with pressure… there is something wrong with stress” (just after winning gold in 100m freestyle.)

Performance vs Results

The second interview was with GB rower Helen Glover. She had retired… and then came out of retirement to train for the Tokyo Olympics. She and her partner had just finished 4th in the final. The journalist said “you must be so disappointed to finish 4th… so close… but no medal. Helen’s answer “this was our best performance. I am extremely happy with our performance today. We were close to a personal best.” Her performance is under her control… the results of the race depend on other factors.

These two interviews reminded me that I have been distracted recently and paying more attention to (and worrying more about) results, not focussing on my own daily contribution.

Pressure is a good thing, it helps us grow. Stress is not.

Learn something

Author T.H. White on learning as a cure for sadness:

“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Source: The Once and Future King

Thanks to James Clear for this quote in his wonderful 3-2-1 email newsletter.

PS I am currently re-reading TH White’s book “The Once and Future King” with my daughter. It was one of my favorites as a child.

Have a great Sunday. We just finished our pancakes 😉

Limiting Beliefs

This is a list from Vered Kogan, Vistage Chair.

Lots of our coaching work in Vistage involves helping leaders identify limitations in their beliefs that restrict their opportunities for personal and professional growth.

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

A limiting belief is an opinion about the world that stops you seeing some potential paths or resources that could help you achieve something that is important to you.

A limiting belief is something you have learnt in the past… it may have been helpful in the past… but today it is limiting your capacity for positive action.

Here’s a list of Limiting Beliefs

  • I’m not good enough  
  • I’m not making enough progress
  • I don’t know where to start  
  • I can’t do it…I’ll never change
  • I can’t depend on most people  
  • I won’t have time to do things I enjoy
  • I don’t have the right skill sets  
  • I’m just not lucky
  • I’m not smart/experienced enough  
  • I’m too old/young
  • I shouldn’t want more in my life  
  • There’s never enough time
  • There’s a right way to do things  
  • What would people think?
  • I’m too scared  
  • It’s too hard. I’m overwhelmed.
  • I don’t have enough resources  
  • What if I change my mind?
  • I might do it wrong  
  • I don’t have a choice
  • I’m a fraud  
  • I’m not very creative
  • I’m not very sociable/outgoing  
  • There’s nothing I can do about…
  • What if they reject/don’t like me?  
  • It’s someone else’s fault

How to Weaken a Limiting Belief

  1. Identify a limiting belief
  2. Ask yourself, “What negative or unwanted consequences have I already experienced as a result of this limiting belief”?
  3. Ask yourself, “What positive outcomes and transformations might I be able to experience if I’m willing to let go of this limiting belief”?
  4. Weaken the Limiting Belief
  5. Cross Out the Limiting Belief
  6. Replace it with a NEW Belief
  7. Strengthen the NEW Belief

Learn more about overcoming Limiting Beliefs from Vered Kogan:

IESE Instagram Live: How Writing Helps your Career

This is the recording of a session I did yesterday with IESE Business School on the topic of writing as a tool to help your career. In this context, writing is not so much about writing for magazines or in a blog… but writing to set goals, to stay focussed, to identify what is important, to gain clarity, to track progress, to plan…

Do you need Motivation? …or do you need Clarity?

Many people say they lack motivation, when what they really lack is clarity. They are not de-motivated, they just don’t have any clear sense of where and how to place their energy and their time.

If you don’t have a plan, you can’t procrastinate. If you didn’t have a plan, procrastination is your plan.

If your goals aren’t written down, it is hard to refocus on them when you get distracted.

PS My friend Christophe took this so seriously that he tattooed an intention on his arm. Tattoos are a big step… maybe start with a piece of paper.

More on Writing as a Tool for Clarity

If you liked this, you will also like Free your Mind: Writing a Journal. and Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership. or Reflect on the Past, Clarify the Future.