Just Ask Leadership - About the Book
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"Leadership is about allowing others the chance to flourish," writes Cohen. "And you do that by asking questions." This empowers coworkers to find solutions, embrace responsibility, and become accountable. Moreover, it opens the door to greater productivity and creativity. Indeed, more than ever before, leaders can’t know everything. By seeking others’ input, they can inspire powerful and positive change.
JUST ASK LEADERSHIP details specific questions to pose in particular situations while also explaining how to create a culture of question-based leadership. Cohen addresses five critical areas:
- Improve Vision—Gaining Insight from All Levels of the Organization
Vision starts with an awareness of values. Questions can illuminate the values of both the leader and the organization. This, in turn, will enable good choices with regard to interacting with customers, hiring new employees, setting goals, and succession planning. Vision is also the bridge to the future. "Climb to the top of the mast and scan the sea for opportunities and threats," writes Cohen. "Then ask forward-leaning questions that others may be reluctant to voice."
- Ensure Accountability—Increasing Team and Organization-Wide Performance
Having coworkers solve their own problems is critical to building their accountability, says Cohen. Leaders must encourage people to act and, provided good-faith action is taken, failure must be used as an opportunity for learning, not an excuse for punishment. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP reveals how to give employees maximum latitude, thereby encouraging them to take initiative and be increasingly capable of taking on more challenging work.
- Build Unity and Cooperation—Creating a Culture of Trust
To unify an organization made up of vastly different individuals, leaders must invite coworkers to share their opinions and listen well to their input. This requires asking good questions—those that house the potential for growth and collaboration—not "gotcha" questions. Cohen shows how to move coworkers forward when they are "stuck," helping them to reach their own solutions, and also addresses such issues as using the right tone, how to be more present in conversations and improve listening, and why it is critical to show respect for the input one receives.
- Create Better Decisions—Getting the Right Answers by Asking the Right Questions
Most leaders make too many decisions, says Cohen. "If you don’t routinely ask, ‘whose decision is it?’ you’ll fall into the trap of doing others’ work," he writes. The best decisions are often made by those down the chain of command, not up. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP details how to direct decision making to the appropriate party, seek clarification, and provide solutions when appropriate.
- Motivate to Action—Asking for Success
"Because I said so," is not a phrase that will inspire coworkers. JUST ASK LEADERSHIP offers insights into how to motivate people by building rapport, customizing incentives, and instilling respect. Cohen’s tactics include creating a sense of urgency, appealing to people’s desire to be remembered, finding new points of leverage, and energizing coworkers by using shared responses—such as asking a group to say, "Agree," after consensus is reached.
Throughout the book, Cohen illustrates his insights with stories from some of the country’s best leaders. For example, he describes how Mike Harper, former CEO of ConAgra, asked the quality control inspectors on his bacon packaging line what would happen if they didn’t do their jobs well. The inspectors played out scenarios including customers becoming ill, potential lawsuits, and bad word of mouth. So when Harper then asked, "You know you have the most important job in the plant, right?" these inspectors knew he meant it. Harper’s questions ensured that his coworkers knew the significance of their work.
"If we tell coworkers how to do their jobs, we are essentially limiting their options and stifling their initiative," writes Cohen. "We’re not leading. Questions aren’t just about not knowing the answers—they lead to fresh ideas, committed action, and the creation of a new rank of leaders." JUST ASK LEADERSHIP gives leaders at all levels the tools they need to empower and motivate coworkers by asking the right questions, the right way.