8 must know question types for Effective Leaders

“The key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders focus on getting to the right questions where as managers focus on finding solutions to those questions”. Michael Marquardt

How many times have you found yourself wondering over a well placed question?

How challenging and stimulating is it to ponder over or doubt established beliefs and guided by a thoughtful question reach new lands previously unexplored?

You can think of the art of questioning as your compass towards a meaningful and productive answer and result.

Michael Marquardt in the insightful book, Leading With Questions How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, explores this very theme. He posits that leadership is all about asking the right questions.

Let’s look at some basic points he makes that will enable us to become better “questioners” and thus, better leaders.

 

question

 

TAXONOMY OF QUESTIONS  – OPEN ENDED VERSUS CLOSED ENDED QUESTIONS

In general, open ended questions stimulate thought and the overall discussion. Closed ended questions do the opposite.

In Procurement terms you can think of open ended questions closer to what an RFI or an RFP is aiming at and a closed ended questions closer to an RFQ.

Let’s look at an example:

Close Ended: “Did you meet your KPIs?”

Open Ended: “How has our KPI performance been going?”

It is evident that in the close ended version the answer is “Yes” or “No”.

The open ended version allows and welcomes commentary and frees up the dialogue towards constructive and productive interchange of ideas.The use of “why”, “how” or “what do you think about…” aims to structure open ended questions.

We have now moved on from a black and white world (if ever we were living in one).

Currently working on complex concoctions of all shades and colours means that we need to embrace tools that stimulate discussion, employee engagement (see here and here for more on this topic) and allow innovation to thrive (other tools for innovation can be found here and here).

 

WHAT TO DO: TAXONOMY OF OPEN ENDED QUESTION

  • what to do

There are various types of open ended questions for us to choose from. The basic ones are listed below:

1) Explorative questions open up new avenues and insights:

Example: Have you explored or thought of………..?

2) Affective questions invite members to share feelings about an issue:

Example: How do you feel about ………?

3) Reflective questions encourage more exploration and elaboration:

Example: You said there are difficulties with your project; what do you think causes these difficulties?

4) Probing questions invite the person or group to go more deeply into a particular issue. Words such as describe, explain, clarify, elaborate or expand aim to do just that.

5) Fresh questions challenge basic assumptions:

Example: Has this ever been tried?

6) Questions that create connections establish a systems perspective:

Example: What are the consequences of these actions?

7) Analytical questions examine causes and not just symptoms:

Example: Why has this happened?

8) Clarifying questions help free us from ambiguity:

Example: What specifically do you mean by that?

 

WHAT NOT TO DO: CLOSED and OTHER DISEMPOWERING QUESTIONS

what not to do

1) Closed Questions call for a specific answer, either yes or no, or calls for the respondent to select an answer from a limited range of choices. Closed questions often begin with what, when, or how many, or ask the respondent to agree or disagree with a statement.

Example: Do you like black or white?

2) Leading questions are those that force or encourage the person or group to respond in the way intended by the questioner.

Example: Were you at the meeting with Bob last night?

A non-Leading example would have been: Where were you last night?

 

SUMMARY

Continuous improvement and radical change relies on good and bold questions been asked.

Coming back to Procurement and Contract Management, results in a recent IACCM study,show that 88% of Contract Management professionals believe that improvement of the quality of the Requirements specifications was the number one factor to improve contract performance in their organisations (see here).

Imagine if the above tool of well placed and well thought of questions was used to clarify and specify Requirements Specifications for our RFx. 

How much better the Procurement and Contract Management process would then be?

 

 

The future of Learning – Are you part of the Learning Revolution?

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

In the future (see also here), I believe that our ability to learn and take advantage of varying environmental shifts and opportunities will define how successful we are and how successful our organisations become.

Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg

The concept of the Learning organisation has been discussed at length and indeed some companies have embraced it looking forward to how the marketspace would be endeavouring to equip themselves with the right tools and right skill-sets and attitudes that would enable them to remain relevant and succeed in the future.

Considering the Future, it is hard to predict what the art of Learning will look like. Technology, social media, interactive learning spaces and our thinking about education and learning is rapidly shifting e.g. embracing concepts like “multiple intelligences” (see here) slowly but surely will remove ourselves from the overly structured and dry learning spaces.

However, it will take years if not decades to fully understand how this shift in thinking will evolve and how it will affect us. To understand this better consider that:

“this is exactly what happened with the invention of the printing press. When Gutenburg first invented the printing press in the 15th century he did not have any idea of the transformative change this machine would bring to the entire humankind. A century later and after printing became a taken-for-granted part of life only then people realized the grandeur of such invention. This is probably what will happen with learning too”. educatorstechnology

As part of this discussion, I came across three resources that very eloquently discuss this issue and contribute to our thinking on how to make Learning more effective for our organisations and for ourselves.

Ken Robinson – his famous talk on the Learning Revolution on TED.com

Ken’s book the Element is also a great resource on the topic.

Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on his Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) Project.

SOLE is a great paradigm of how technology can stimulate engagement and learning.

FInally, Knowledgeworks have taken a look into the future of education and learning put their thoughts in this great infographic.

The Future of Learning - knowledgeworks

The Future of Learning – knowledgeworks

Download the pdf version from here.

 

How do you promote learning and employee engagement within your team and your own organisation?

 

David Allen – GTD system – Practical Personal Productivity

“Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.”David Allen

We live in a world that is full of demands, requirements, deadlines and disruptions.

How can someone overcome the challenges this posits and enjoy the benefits?

One way is by developing a sound system of personal productivity (so-called,Action Management) that allows for macro-planning but at the same time for getting the everyday tasks done towards achieving our goals in life.

A great system that be-frees our potential can be found in David Allen’s – Getting Things done (GTD).

The system cannot be explained in one blog post so, I will try to provide an introduction here.

Keep on reading if you want to find out the basic tenets and thinking about this system as well as a presentation that goes through and additional resources for putting a concrete Action Management system in your life.

David Allen

David Allen

 

INTRODUCTION

Action Management can be defined as the process of creating a system in your life that helps you stay on top of your tasks, projects, aims and maintain an excellent work effort.

 

GTD system’s basic tenets

“You can do anything, not everything” David Allen. 

 

David Allen GTD system is formed around two basic axes:

1) Capture your thoughts.

The idea is that we are burdened by the constant flow of thoughts and actions that come to our minds.

As you may have noticed these may be in irrelevant random order or in sequence.

Worrying about forgetting something to be done, relying purely on memory alone is quite a stress in itself.

Tests have provided strong indications that the average person can retain around the 7 items in a list. Check this out when you test your memory when going to the supermarket. Some details can be found here.

In modern Western societies especially when we are constantly dealing with conflicting demands the magical number 7 is really low when compared to the amount of tasks one needs to retain to accomplish his /her goals.

Moreover, when the focus and stress is on retaining the menial tasks that need to be done to get by, one may lose the opportunity to create the necessary “mindspace” to think about the grander picture.

So, capturing your thoughts is very handy and be-freeing.

2) Focus on the Next Action

David’s system does not subscribe to the ABC rule (see here) but breaks down the projects in individual tasks (a task may be defined as something that can be accomplished in 20 minutes or less) and then urges us to focus only on the next step – next action towards achieving our goal.

As Master Yoda might say “do, or do not” – there is no priority C.  🙂

Of course, the system can be modified to use e.g. the Pomodoro technique for focus management (considering accomplishment of individual tasks) and the ABC method  to plan your projects and what comes first during your weekly/ monthly / yearly reviews. You can use SCAMPER for this (see here and here)

Working in small chunks is aligned with the idea elaborated before in the blog post “how to eat an elephant” and is used extensively by successful professionals.

Whatever productivity system you choose to work with, focusing on the next action in an invaluable tool.

 

PRESENTATION

The below presentation is elaborating on the GTD system and its main tenets.

 

 

 

Special thanks to Beth Wilton for collaborating in the development of the presentation.

 

If you are interested some further reading have a look at multitasking and ways to approach it (here).

 

 

================================================================================

 

Image courtesy of http://www.thelegacyproject.co.za

 

Multitasking, a misused term! How to put your real multi-tasking power to good use!

“Do not multitask. I’m going to tell you what you already know. Trying to brush your teeth, talk on the phone, and answer e-mail at the same time just doesn’t work. Eating while doing online research and instant messaging? Ditto. If you prioritize properly, there is no need to multitask. It is a symptom of “task creep”—doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less. As stated, you should have, at most, two primary goals or tasks per day. Do them separately from start to finish without distraction. Divided attention will result in more frequent interruptions, lapses in concentration, poorer net results, and less gratification”  Tim Ferriss – The 4hr workweek

Multitasking is a term I constantly find people overuse and misuse.

I have seen this especially with people who are eager to prove that they have the ability to do everything at the same time.

Recent research highlights that “trying to focus on more than one thing at a time causes a 40% drop in productivity” (see below infographic for more research outcomes on the effects on this kind of  “multitasking”).

Moreover, the outcomes of “multitasking” is usually outcomes that are sub-optimal in quality. This of course creates more work negating the perceived “benefits” of saving time through Tim Ferriss’ described “multitasking” anyway.

The art of focus management is very important. More so, when you are working in an open office environment where distractions are very common and beyond anyone’s control.

Let’s see what the right way to think about multitasking is and a few tips on how to avoid disruptions as well as a presentation explaining a popular productivity method that can assist towards better focus management.

caffeinating, calculating, computerating

MULTI-TASKING

So, do we not focus on multitasking as a key skill for the modern professional?

Of course we do, but we need to redefine the term.

“MULTI-TASKING can be defined as the ability to work on multiple projects within the same span of time e.g. Have multiple projects on the run, but not at the same time”.

Good organisational skills, good action and project management skills are essential to achieve this.

It is obvious that the quality of work is in the effectiveness and efficiency by which we approach a task or project. Hence, we have to always look at these two terms working in tandem.

Efficiency means that you choose the right steps to the desired result and effectiveness is the fact that you get to the result.

Remember good old Einstein:

Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler”.

STEPS FOR INCREASING EFFECTIVENESS FOR MULTI-TASKING

1. Focus Management – Select periods to work on specific projects and tell your colleagues that you do not want to be disturbed during this time. Select symbols to denote that this is your “mental focus time” e.g. A do not disturb sign always works 🙂

2. Become aware of where you dedicate time during the week. Eliminate the tasks that do not have an effect on the business and are just noise (meetings you do not need to attend and email people copy you in for the shake of been copied in are just some examples).

3. Work on your ABCs i.e

  • A- Tasks that are URGENT and IMPORTANT come first,
  • B- Tasks that are IMPORTANT but not URGENT come next and
  • C- the rest can wait.

4. Set out a time to review tasks and prepare a list of steps that need to be done (David Allen’s Getting Things Done method is highly recommended). The below presentation briefly describes this method:

 

OTHER RESOURCES

The below infographic gathers some research that proves that the multitasking as described by Tim Ferriss above is not efficient nor effective.

 

Multitasking

The Perils of Multitasking – infographic by onlinecollege.org

 

Image courtesy of Ryan Ritchie / flickr.com