lunes, 27 de febrero de 2012

4 Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Samuel Palmisano, who recently retired from his position as IBM’s CEO and is now chairman of the board, is – by all accounts – a good leader.  He leaves IBM in excellent shape, financially and organizationally, and has handed over the day-to-day reins as CEO to Ginni Rommetty, the first woman to lead IBM.  if you wander around the web, you’ll see that he’s generally held in high regard by those he’s led.  I read an article in the NYT last month that focused on how he has run his business over the past decade. I was especially struck by the four questions Palmisano used as a framework, starting just a few months after he became CEO:
• “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”
• “Why would somebody work for you?”
• “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”
• “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

These are such excellent questions.  First, they’re wonderfully ‘curiosity-based.’  That is, they seem to arise out of a genuine interest in knowing more about the person or group to whom the question is directed (vs. questions asked to confirm a pre-existing theory or belief).  Next, they focus on the four areas I believe the leader needs to be most concerned with: customers, employees, the larger social/political environment, and the shareholders/stakeholders.

The thing I love most about them, though, and the reason I think they belong in the toolkit of any leader, is that they’re so wonderfully targeted. If you, as a leader, ask these questions, you have the possibility of getting truly valuable information: real answers from your most important constituencies, telling you what they need and want from you. That information is golden: it’s key to your success.

Of course, there are some other things that have to be true, in order for these questions to be fully helpful. Most important, you have to be a good, followable leader, in order to get real answers and respond to them in useful ways.

You need to be trustworthy (as does anyone else in your organization who’s asking these questions), or you won’t get accurate answers.  If your people don’t trust you, they’ll just tell you what they think you want to hear.

And when the answers start coming in you have to be wise: listen deeply and without prejudice, and look for the patterns in what you’re hearing.

Then you need to respond to what you hear so as to take best advantage of it: be far-sighted enough to envision the organization that embodies the answers you get; be passionate and courageous in pursuing that organizational future; be generous with knowledge, resources, faith, power and authority, so that your customers, employees, shareholders and society can all see and feel you responding to their answers in the ways they hoped you would.

So, like any good tool – it’s great to have it in your toolkit…but it’s even more important that you know how to use it.

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