“What was I thinking?” Leadership Lessons from my week on the Appalachian Trail – Part 1
“What was I thinking?” became my mantra during my 7 days of hiking the first 70 miles of the AT with my oldest son, Michael David (he went another 3 weeks racking up many more miles).
- “What was I thinking carry all this food?”
- “What was I thinking having three changes of clothing when I’ve only worn one?”
- “What was I thinking not having trekking poles?” as my toe nails started to fall off because of toe jam.
- “What was I thinking not have my pack fitted and adjusted properly before I left?” as my shoulder ached.
- “What was I thinking not taking a closer look at my son’s well thought out itinerary and his packing list?” when I couldn’t remember where we stayed or planned to stay.
- “What was I thinking not being in better shape before the trip?” when I was so winded climbing up those mountains.
Now the beauty of backpacking is the thinking time as you walk (I was too winded to talk much). It was during these daily hikes that I’d find myself asking the “what was I thinking?” questions. And each time I asked these questions I also reflected how these AT experiences could speak into my life and leadership back home. The reality is I had some “ah ha” moments that have led me to make some significant changes when I got off the trail.
So join me over the next few posts as I share some of these lessons (and the stories behind them) with the hopes you’ll also find some useful nuggets for your leadership journey.
When Not Having all the Answers is the Right Answer! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 13
Can you effectively lead without having all the answers? Will others follow when you’re not the source of all knowledge? Or might it be possible that having all the right answers might actually get in the way of leading others effectively?
Now before you answer these questions ask yourself this – what is the role of a leader? Is it to be the source of all knowledge? Or is it to be a guide to others in their journey of discovery, to empower others by helping them find their own answers?
Consider this reality – knowledge is power, so having all the knowledge of knowledge means having all the power. Now admittedly leaders need power and good leaders use power for good reasons. But power and knowledge are not scarce resources to be held tightly and handed out like war rations. Instead they are much more like Black-eyed Susan’s, when planted in well watered and fertilized soil, spread and fill a garden with beauty.
In other words, leadership is about multiplying power not keeping and hording it. And the most effective way to multiply power is to help others learn how to discover their own answers to their questions, to gain their own understanding and knowledge.
How do we help others do this? We shy away from the temptation to simply answering their questions; instead we answer their questions with our own thoughtful, probing questions. We use the right questions to guide and direct others in their journey of discovering the right answers. Because when a person discovers their own answers they’re empowered with their new knowledge to anticipate, act and respond to the world around them.
So in leadership it’s better to ask the right questions than have all the right answers.
Leading by Asking the Right Questions
Leadership is more about asking the right questions than having all the answers.
Implied in my last post, What’s Required to Lead Teams, Organizations and Movements, is the reality that best Organizational Leaders ask the right questions.
That’s because asking the right questions creates dialogue, and dialogue is critical for creating shared vision and values, as well as creating a strong commitment to both the people and the organization’s mission. So the leader’s job is to ask the right questions and listen to all the answers and discussion that follows.
Asking the right questions also requires asking the right people. In most organizations the right people included include employees, board members, customers, potential customers, volunteers and donors (for non-profits), and yourself. Of course it’s not always practical to ask every person in each category, but it’s important to find the right number of people in each group, remembering that the goal is to create dialogue, commitment, and clarity in the answers to the Right Questions.
Finally, though it’s obvious, if leaders are to lead through asking the right questions it requires them to ask these questions with humility, to be truly open to hearing things they may not like to hear, to respect both the messages and the messengers, and finally, to have the wisdom to sort through the array of answers to find the common themes which, ultimately leads to the right answers.
So what are the right questions that need to be asked?
They’re questions that center on the four areas leaders need to lead – Organizational Thinking, People, Resources, and Self – discussed in my last two posts. Though there may be many right questions, you might want to begin with the questions SpringHill asks by clicking here (or see my page on the above right side of my blog called “Questions Leaderships Should Ask and Help Their Organization Answer”); they’re formatted into a checklist you can use to evaluate your own organization and its journey of asking and answering the Right Questions.43.928283-85.286682
“Does Your Dad Work Here for the Money?”
One Saturday this fall my son Mitch walked over to the SpringHill gym to shoot some hoops. That weekend, like most weekends, we had a few hundred guests attending retreats. As Mitch was shooting around one of our guests, an older gentleman, came over to Mitch and struck up a conversation.
The man asked Mitch some pretty straight forward questions like “are you a Christian?” And “do you have a Bible and do you read it?” Though the questions took Mitch back a bit, he answered each question affirmatively.
Then the gentleman changed directions and asked Mitch about his parents. In answering these questions Mitch told him I was the President of SpringHill.
To which the man responded “Does your dad work here for the money?”
Though Mitch thought it was a strange question he answered “no I don’t think so”.
Now you may be wondering if this question bothered me because it implies my motives for working at SpringHill are less than noble. But truth is, as I explained to Mitch, I wasn’t offended at all, instead I was actually thankful to be asked such an important question.
Why? Because it’s a question we should always ask of ourselves, or be willing to be asked by others. You see, there’s really nothing that can go adrift faster, and with more stealth, than our motives. And it’s only by being asked the straight up question “what’s your (my) motive” that we can begin the healthy process of checking, and if necessary, correcting the reasons behind what we do.
And, in the best of all worlds, not only would our actions be noble, but our motives behind those actions would be noble as well.43.928283-85.286682