Tapping Untapped Resources
Extend and enrich your leadership journey by reaching out to local leaders and inviting them to coffee or lunch. Honor them by asking them questions. Share a challenge you’re facing and ask for their insights. Explore their values.
I’m in a hotel right now mulling over the interesting conversations I’ve had with high profile leaders.
Interviewing leaders changes me. Actually my interviews are more like conversations.
Last week, I sent a request to interview Magic Johnson. That’s a shot in the dark.
This morning, I sent an email to Seth Godin requesting an interview. Hey, I can ask!
Next week, I’m interviewing Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company.
Some suggest you should keep an open mind when you have conversations. I think otherwise.
I always enter conversations with high profile leaders filled with base-line expectations. They quickly explode my expectations and that makes the conversation interesting for me.
- Bring a notepad and pen. Honor them by jotting down some of the things they say.
- Ask follow-up questions on topics or statements that interest you.
- Don’t stop asking till you find an actionable item that could change you.
- Ask them what they like being asked?
A Favorite question:
One of my favorite questions is, “Would you tell me about a tipping point in your life/career?” A tipping point is the point when things radically changed for them.
I’m surprised and saddened by the low number of questions I hear around me. Are we so filled with wisdom that we can’t learn?
Humble yourself by reaching out to others and learning from them.
Have you had conversations that changed you?
Don’t miss a single issue of Leadership Freak, subscribe today. It’s free. It’s private. It’s always practical and brief.
Go to the main page of Leadership Freak by clicking the banner at the top of this page, look in the right-hand navigation bar, enter your email and click subscribe. Your email address is always kept private. Note: if it doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter for a confirmation email.
Learning is a precious opportunity available to everyone. That’s why when I went through the whole “roles and goals” thing I ended up with Student as a primary role. Conscious focused effort toward life-long learning is what creates thought leaders. And you can learn anywhere from anyone: I just had a fascinating conversation with a 17-year-old boy about the organization and management of fencing (think swords) tournaments. He was into the sport.
A key conversation that changed me was with a retiring Army officer who urged me every day to use my self up in the service of two things: First, an ideal that captures my passion and second, the people in my life. He made the following point I’ve never forgotten: The point of leisure is recharge batteries. The point of batteries is to do work. So work enough to drain the batteries before you go to leisure.
Hi Greg love your last paragraph. Great metaphor and insight from your military friend. I travel with the thought that everyone is smart just smart at different things and every interaction is an opportunity for learning. I try to pry the nuggets loose from every relationship, friendship, and colleague that I can and never discriminate where the knowledge comes from. I live in a horizontal world and sometimes I look left and learn and sometimes I look right and teach which enhances and solidifies what I already know. In Residency Training the dictum was: See one, do one, teach one. That philosophy has served me well.
Thanks, Greg. Great visual about batteries, work, and leisure. Love the “use yourself up.” My dad once commented “you can wear out, but don’t rust out.”
Spot on Greg…having been a recreational therapist earlier in my career, we had it ingrained in school about that life balance.
You can think thirds, 8 hours (ha) of work, 8 hours of sleep (right!) and 8 hours of leisure. Of course in your ‘leisure’ time, you have to get food, get cars fixed, get supplies, get the house clean and usually, when you are done gettin’ your batteries are drained and there’s no time left either.
I really like the frame of reference that you are re-creating yourself so that you can do your best in other areas. If you don’t do it, who will?
I agree that in conversations, one should put across his points and keep asking till he is satisfied. By asking question about what changed the journey of a leader actually opens options and also broaden our horizon. I have listened the conversation is tipping points. It is superb conversation. It talks about little things that makes big differences in lives. I had conversations that influenced me a lot. It was with my PhD guide who discussed about little things. He said that fools never learn. It really pushed me hard to think how lazy and rigid people do not learn and they usually first to suggest. He also discussed that truth never dies, it can be disturbed but can not be defeated. This is a strong message. I had conversations with many key people before. One of the message, I remember that struggle is the part of life. As long as life is there, struggle will be there. My perception was different before. I used to think that when you have everything, struggle will be over, but now I am more clear. I strongly believe that struggle is the actual motivator. More the struggle, more the opportunity to succeed. At the same time, more the support system, less is the opportunity to succeed in life.
Ajay, really like your comments about struggle. While we’re in it I’m not always sure we appreciate the struggle, but clearly, they are the some of the richest moments in life because of how we became motivated and how we grew. Thanks.
Great points Dan. Here’s one more tip. Follow up that discussion with a note thanking them and sharing a point or two of what you learned in the discussion with them. You just might find you get invited to chat again in the future.
Have a great weekend everyone, Joan
Joan, thanks for the always-needed reminder to say thank you. I don’t know what that step is so easy to forget, especially since it’s not hard to do.
Thanks for giving me some of your time on the phone. Your experience and insight help me.
Many years ago when I was planning ‘what next’ I contacted a number of local high profile leaders and asked if I could talk to them for 15 minutes. I let them know that I was planning my future and admired their success and my only question for them is ‘to what do you attribute your success?’.
I was thrilled that many people agreed to meet with me. Interestingly, most told me that no one had ever asked them that and most talked well beyond 15 minutes. It was fascinating and an honor to listen to them share their stories. Answers varied widely and were rich with personal anecdotes about the drivers of their efforts.
These conversations had a profound impact on me and I am continually humbled by such experiences. You are so right about being humble Dan.
I really like what Ajay and Greg contributed to this discussion too.
Cinnie, as usual you make a great addition to the conversation, this time with your story of contacting local leaders. Anyone who is interested in this should go for it, because most of those men and women will respond eagerly. As a mature (but always maturing) manager I’m actively looking for those ways to pay it forward in my professional life. It’s always disappointing how hard it is to find ways to do that.
I’m so glad you shared your story. It may be just what some readers need to take the next step.
I find most leaders love sharing ideas with honest, listening, learners.
I’m thankful you two consistently add value to the community.
Dan, good stuff as always. I just finished a blog on building capacity . What you talk about is one of the key ways we build our capacity. I tell my coachees with stronger personalities that I am going to print them a T-shirt that says, “Ask more questions, make less statements!”
Over time my best ability to build my capacity has been at its highest when I am more willing to be open to new learning, to be humble, to listen more, and to ask more questions.
I’ve heard it say that if we’re really paying attention by our 50’s we’ll know more about what we don’t know. It’s certainly true for me.
Really like the notion of reaching out to other leaders more, to find out more of what they have experienced and understanding where there tipping point was.
Thanks for the thoughts. Good luck with Magic!
Jim, assuming that’s your Twitter handle embedded by your name, I’m going to give you a follow and take a look at your blog. Sounds like good stuff.
Since I originally did my “roles and goals” a while back, I’ve switched some things around. I now prioritize learning over teaching, and I prioritize serving over leading. For me, I’ve never been effective unless I focus on the learning and serving. Seems like if you do that, the opportunities to teach and lead come.
Dang Jim… you are kicking butt!
I now prioritize learning over teaching, and I prioritize serving over leading…. NUFF SAID.
Thanks for being part of a growing team of individuals that serve others with their questions, comments, insights, and disruptions. (disruptions when you disagree with me) 😉
You inserted a tiny word with great power in your comment that jumped off the page, humble – 6 letters that can change everything.
I just listened to John Dickson talk about humility. One point: Humility is Generative. It opens our minds to learning. The opposite is true: Arrogance closes our minds.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? 😉
I hope readers click on your link, follow you on twitter like I do, and visit your site.
Greg, Love your advice from the retiring military officer. It is visual and easy to internalize. Our son is a military officer and it has been our honor and privilege to spend time with so many of these talented men and women. The military is a true leadership learning/teaching lab. Congrats to you for listening, internalizing, and then teaching that very large life lesson. We are currently surrounded by people working hard, working harder, with “I can do it all” mentality. That recharge piece is critical to do your best work.
My best to your son, Barb. Is he lucky enough to be Army? If not, the other services are good too. ; ) Sorry, the whole inter-service rivalry thing is persistent. My son is in the Air Force, and he gives as good as he gets.
yes Greg, he’s in the Army. He completed a command tour in Afghanistan, brought all his men home whole, and just this past winter returned from 17 months in Iraq as an adviser to the Iraqi military. Now in Alaska with USArmy AK. A reward for him and his family! Also completed a year at Command General Staff College. – Amazing men and women from here and around the world!
I know about that inter service rivalry – Good for your son!
thank him for us. Every one of these young men and women are making a difference. They are the leaders of our country and many will be the leaders of our corporations, educational systems and most importantly they are modeling leadership in their family’s lives.
Love the reminders in this column. I know, when I attend retreats, workshops, conferences, that the real learning takes place from the conversations with others. Yet I don’t think to MAKE those opportunities on a daily basis by asking questions of the people I’m arround, or making opportunities to interview community leaders. I think I’ll make myself a few signs that say “Just Ask!”.
Thanks once again for a great column.
Starting with props Dan—way to go on seeking out the ‘big gun’ leaders. Magic Johnson would be a very interesting interview…his perspectives on team and leadership, especially coaches should bear fruit.
Now, maybe calling you out a bit (actually did it late in yesterday’s post, so now I am piling on)…should interviews with high profile leaders be any different from dialogues with emerging leaders such as the one you wrote about yesterday? Should we have similar preparation and maybe some of the same questions? If we see a diamond in the rough, perhaps that dialogue/interview is as important (more?) as current top leaders, since s/he may be leading us someday!
Good question of Dan…..more than that though…are high profile leaders the only individuals we can learn leadership wisdom from? What about those obscure quiet folks who have ground it out year in and year out with little recognition or accolades. Like the guy who for 50 some odd years maintained a family farm through thick and thin…..what wisdom he must have not just in stated words and a page but in blood, dirt and a sweaty brow….
I in turn would value this wisdom over say MJ….just saying…
Hi Doc and Joe,
i hear you on consistency between conversations with high/low – established or emerging leaders…Why not ask the same questions?
In a recent conversation with a local news paper, they were interested in interviews with local leaders for their readers.
I’ve found, as I’m sure you have also, that everyone has an interesting story once you get under the hood.
Joe, your comment about grinding it out over the years is important. I value, as you do, the quality of perseverance.
I’ve been grappling, however, with the idea of too much perseverance…of not quitting when things don’t deliver the result you want over the long haul. (I guess I’m off topic a bit.)
Finally, I’ll take your prodding and poking to heart.
I agree Dan, ask the same questions…
Now you have me thinking about too much perseverance…it may be a combo of expectations and reality and yet, over if it is a pattern over the long haul…hmmm, gotta ponder more on that. Good one!
I’m guilty of too much perseverance and have friends who do the same. We need to understand “quitting smart” vs. being a quitter. I find it a real challenge.
When you come up with some ideas please drop a note. dan (at) leadershipfreak.com
Your post today resonates on many levels with me. Ten years ago I started interviewing leaders I considered the influencers in my world. I’ve compiled those wisdoms into a book entitled “Thank You for Leaving Me With…” The book idea didn’t even enter my mind until my husband left me three years ago on the day I started Chemo. That was a tipping point day for me. I realized I needed to learn and listen from those who had walked through dark days and not only survived but thrived. I re-read the notes I had scribbled from hundreds of interviews over that ten year span and my new path unfolded. I had untapped resources sitting in a drawer. Every person that enters my life now is a resource for helping me grow whole instead of old. It’s never to late to learn and be good again, is it?
Just superb! you have covered an interesting lesson of life. Always be curious to learn from other successful people by showing respect, sincerity [carrying a note pad to jot down] and go on asking till you get an actionable item that can be of a real help to you. I always admire the speeches of CEOs and am in a habit of noting points that appeal to me to get self-inspired and motivated for changing my own work style and habits.
I have learnt that a well prepared speech to suit the occasion can also change the lives of many others. Things that come from one’s heart and sharing of experiences can certainly appeal to some and whose lives can change with good messages.At times, people remember you for being so thoughtful and remaining instrumental in showing them the right path.
Not enough questions being asked may be a sign of our insecurity and need for approval/confirmation from others. Maybe we are just too full of ourselves or afraid of seeming stupid to others. I find that my best conversations begin with an open-ended question and close with an open-ended question and a thank you. Oh, in between are several other questions. It seems people think me much smarter when I ask them significant questions than when I try to bless them with all my years of accumulated wisdom. Thanks for the reminder, Dan.
I never assume someone will say NO to an interview and any opportunity to share their insight and wisdom. If you don’t ask, and you don’t celebrate the value you can offer and have to them, why wouldn’t they say yes? Thanks..ebjoy your work!