Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘facts

The Need To Test Opinions Against the Facts

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womanonscreen

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated, “Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.” [i]

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well. People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.” [ii]

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions. On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ [iii]

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test: Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ [iv]

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar, Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”[v]


[i]  Wartzman Rick, GM: Lessons from the Alfred Sloan Era (Business Week, June 12, 2009)

[ii]  Fisherman Charles, Face Time with Meg Whitman (Fast Company, April 30, 201)

[iii]  Miller Will, Joseph Irwin Miller. 26 May 1909 – 16 August 2004 (The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 150, No. 3, September 2006)

[iv]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[v]  Schleier Curt, William Blackie Put Caterpillar On An Upward Path Expand Your Horizons: The CEO Steered The Machinery Company’s Business All Over The Globe And Dug Up Massive Sale (Investor’s Business Daily, February 2, 2002)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

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questionsdiscussions

What is your typical response when asked a challenging question?

  • A blank panicked stare followed by a profusion of sweat.
  • Whoa, that came out of left field.
  • I haven’t learned that yet.
  • I didn’t expect you to ask that.
  • Shall I make a few tries at it before admitting that I don’t know the answer?

All of the above responses tend to be real replies often given by employees during a serious or challenging question and answer process or session. Most know that it isn’t the best way to respond, but failed to know what else to say. To be considered fluent and knowledgeable, it is essential to avoid these responses.

However, before responding to a question always consider a response from the questioner’s perspective. In other words: Why is the person asking the question(s) in the first place?

In order to answer questions appropriately and effectively think about asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the individual looking for?
  • What past challenges might this person have had in the organization or with previous employees?
  • What qualities, skills and experiences can you infer are important to the questioner from the question(s) asked?
  • Are the topics or concerns being questioned about in his or her field of expertise, or out of it?
  • Who is asking the question? The owner, manager or a peer or colleague?

What to Avoid When Answering Questions

When answering questions try not to provide a superficial response to any question. This makes the questioning process muddied, as it slows the progress of getting to the issue at hand, as well as at the heart of the question. Avoid offering a broad or general response because an opportunity will be missed to demonstrate understanding about the topic’s concerns, ramifications and issues. Avoid not answering the question, or skirting around it as it implies to the questioner they are not being listened to and they will become frustrated, and will start to tune out the response to the question. Don’t give generic answers, which implies not mirroring the questioner’s words in the response. If the specifics in the answer are not addressed, the questioner will likely be left with the impression that the responder didn’t listen well, didn’t understand the question, or really didn’t care about the seriousness of the question itself. None of these responses leaves a positive impression on the questioner.

Listen Carefully to What the Question Implies, States and Asks

Listening carefully ensures the question was completely understood and can then be answered effectively, or shows if the question is not as clear and concise as it should be. Listening well is an art that involves good eye contact, body language, and other nonverbal cues. It is essential to pay attention to both what is being said and asked and the manner in which it is delivered. As it may well provide valuable tips to formulate effective responses to the question.

Don’t Interrupt the Questioner

Interrupting someone is not just discourteous, but unprofessional. Not intentionally interrupting the questioner demonstrates the strength of one’s listening skills and ability to respond to the questioner’s inquires and to follow directions. If necessary, it is more effective to clarify the question or at the end, simply ask, “Was the question answered clearly enough?’

Provide a Complete and Precise Response

Take the time to formulate a response and remember that a moment of silence to collect one’s thoughts is always acceptable. Begin the answer with a strong, positive opener including key critical points. Be concise, direct and confident while still providing an adequate amount of detail. When answering a question that has multiple components, section it off to ensure that each point was addressed. For example, you might say, “First, I would ____ then I think I would ____.” After completely responding to one or more complex questions, provide a concise summary as to the whole of the topic or issue presented.

There are certain things to avoid when providing a response, such as: rushing through a response, providing only a superficial answer, trailing off at the end of a question, or not responding to prompts or signals that the questioner wants to hear more.

Prove Experience with Examples and Factual Statements

Share some personal experiences while responding which helps convince the questioner that you have the skills or the ability to transfer your knowledge and reasoning into new avenues of applications, perceptions and thinking.

However, make sure not to: reference the example(s) given, repeatedly use the same example during the question and answer process, choose a poor or inappropriate example, or use a good example, but provide it at the wrong time.

Ensure That Explanations Are Optimized

Most likely it will be impossible to give all the answers the questioner desires. Because of this, it is important to convince the individual that you do have: the potential to find out more about the topic being questioned, the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, and the desire to learn quickly and efficiently.

When providing an explanation do not create a link in experience and events from the past to the present and future or miss the opportunity to build confidence based on personal past experiences.

Volunteer More Information than Is Expected

Volunteer information that might not otherwise be asked about. If you have a particular accomplishment that qualifies within a response and it hasn’t come up in the questioning process, make sure to work it in. Modesty and humility are fine personal traits to have, but certain responses can also be used to “sell yourself,” which at times can be extremely beneficial and useful.

In response to a question don’t leave it up to the questioner to “fish” for information in order to get it or miss the opportunity to share unique details that might make you stand out from other employees or individuals.

Demonstrate Your Level of Knowledge

Within responses, bring in points that support your level of knowledge about what is going on within the organization, department and workplace. Take the opportunity during responses to share what you have gained, your knowledge of the industry, and especially your interest in the company. Express your interest verbally through the words you choose as well as in your actions throughout the question and answer process. If you don’t find opportunities to work in certain points of knowledge and interest during the ongoing question and answer process, address it at the end when you are given the opportunity to say something, (which is usually when you are asked if you have any more questions).

When responding to a question, make sure not to let your nervousness and response performance override your interest and enthusiasm during the questioning process or miss opportunities to share your understandings and viewpoints.

Respond Positively to Questions

It is important to frame your responses positively. This can be challenging when asked a question that you do not have an answer for, or when asked about experiences that you don’t yet have. A person can prepare him or herself in advance by anticipating these types of questions, and learning techniques to respond positively.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Not All Questions Are Created Equally

The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Attention to Minor Details Averts Major Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

//

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

September 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Don’t Push Out Figures When Facts Are Going in the Opposite Direction

with 2 comments

Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated,

“Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. “Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.”

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well.

People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.”

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions.

On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ ”

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test:

‘Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ ”

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar,

“Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

with 2 comments

What is your typical response when asked a challenging question?

  • A blank panicked stare followed by a profusion of sweat.
  • Whoa, that came out of left field.
  • I haven’t learned that yet.
  • I didn’t expect you to ask that.
  • Shall I make a few tries at it before admitting that I don’t know the answer?

All of the above responses tend to be real replies often given by employees during a serious or challenging question and answer process or session. Most know that it isn’t the best way to respond, but failed to know what else to say. To be considered fluent and knowledgeable, it is essential to avoid these responses.

However, before responding to a question always consider a response from the questioner’s perspective. In other words: Why is the person asking the question(s) in the first place?

In order to answer questions appropriately and effectively think about asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is the individual looking for?
  2. What past challenges might this person have had in the organization or with previous employees?
  3. What qualities, skills and experiences can you infer are important to the questioner from the question(s) asked?
  4. Are the topics or concerns being questioned about in his or her field of expertise, or out of it?
  5. Who is asking the question? The owner, manager or a peer or colleague?

Related: Not All Questions Are Created Equally

What to Avoid When Answering Questions

When answering questions try not to provide a superficial response to any question. This makes the questioning process muddied, as it slows the progress of getting to the issue at hand, as well as at the heart of the question. Avoid offering a broad or general response because an opportunity will be missed to demonstrate understanding about the topic’s concerns, ramifications and issues. Avoid not answering the question, or skirting around it as it implies to the questioner they are not being listened to and they will become frustrated, and will start to tune out the response to the question. Don’t give generic answers, which implies not mirroring the questioner’s words in the response. If the specifics in the answer are not addressed, the questioner will likely be left with the impression that the responder didn’t listen well, didn’t understand the question, or really didn’t care about the seriousness of the question itself. None of these responses leaves a positive impression on the questioner.

Listen Carefully to What the Question Implies, States and Asks

Listening carefully ensures the question was completely understood and can then be answered effectively, or shows if the question is not as clear and concise as it should be. Listening well is an art that involves good eye contact, body language, and other nonverbal cues. It is essential to pay attention to both what is being said and asked and the manner in which it is delivered. As it may well provide valuable tips to formulate effective responses to the question.

Don’t Interrupt the Questioner

Interrupting someone is not just discourteous, but unprofessional. Not intentionally interrupting the questioner demonstrates the strength of one’s listening skills and ability to respond to the questioner’s inquires and to follow directions. If necessary, it is more effective to clarify the question or at the end, simply ask, “Was the question answered clearly enough?’

Provide a Complete and Precise Response

Take the time to formulate a response and remember that a moment of silence to collect one’s thoughts is always acceptable. Begin the answer with a strong, positive opener including key critical points. Be concise, direct and confident while still providing an adequate amount of detail. When answering a question that has multiple components, section it off to ensure that each point was addressed. For example, you might say, “First, I would ____ then I think I would ____.” After completely responding to one or more complex questions, provide a concise summary as to the whole of the topic or issue presented.

There are certain things to avoid when providing a response, such as: rushing through a response, providing only a superficial answer, trailing off at the end of a question, or not responding to prompts or signals that the questioner wants to hear more.

Related: The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Prove Experience with Examples and Factual Statements

Share some personal experiences while responding which helps convince the questioner that you have the skills or the ability to transfer your knowledge and reasoning into new avenues of applications, perceptions and thinking.

However, make sure not to: reference the example(s) given, repeatedly use the same example during the question and answer process, choose a poor or inappropriate example, or use a good example, but provide it at the wrong time.

Ensure That Explanations Are Optimized

Most likely it will be impossible to give all the answers the questioner desires. Because of this, it is important to convince the individual that you do have: the potential to find out more about the topic being questioned, the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, and the desire to learn quickly and efficiently.

When providing an explanation do not create a link in experience and events from the past to the present and future or miss the opportunity to build confidence based on personal past experiences.

Volunteer More Information than Is Expected

Volunteer information that might not otherwise be asked about. If you have a particular accomplishment that qualifies within a response and it hasn’t come up in the questioning process, make sure to work it in. Modesty and humility are fine personal traits to have, but certain responses can also be used to “sell yourself,” which at times can be extremely beneficial and useful.

In response to a question don’t leave it up to the questioner to “fish” for information in order to get it or miss the opportunity to share unique details that might make you stand out from other employees or individuals.

Demonstrate Your Level of Knowledge

Within responses, bring in points that support your level of knowledge about what is going on within the organization, department and workplace. Take the opportunity during responses to share what you have gained, your knowledge of the industry, and especially your interest in the company. Express your interest verbally through the words you choose as well as in your actions throughout the question and answer process. If you don’t find opportunities to work in certain points of knowledge and interest during the ongoing question and answer process, address it at the end when you are given the opportunity to say something, (which is usually when you are asked if you have any more questions).

When responding to a question, make sure not to let your nervousness and response performance override your interest and enthusiasm during the questioning process or miss opportunities to share your understandings and viewpoints.

Related: Attention to Minor Details Averts Major Problems

Respond Positively to Questions

It is important to frame your responses positively. This can be challenging when asked a question that you do not have an answer for, or when asked about experiences that you don’t yet have. A person can prepare him or herself in advance by anticipating these types of questions, and learning techniques to respond positively.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

October 2, 2012 at 11:28 am

Proactive Listening Requires Focus

leave a comment »

Leaders spend about 80% of their time listening to others, yet often fail to pay attention to what is actually being said. For many, it is only hearing what others say without truly understanding or comprehending it.

Effective listening depends upon the ability to identify and understand specifically what others are saying. This involves understanding their pronunciations, grammar, vocabulary, and most of all, grasping the real meaning behind what is being said. Full understanding is essential to gathering the necessary information to make a proper evaluation of assumptions, needs and concerns. Inappropriate or ineffective listening can produce communication problems.

Leaders need to apply specific techniques to enhance their active listening skills when dealing with other individuals. Active and effective listening generates an ongoing dialogue between individuals. The main idea behind active and effective listening is to get the other individual to actively participate in the process.

Related: Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Listening can range from a minimum level, which is hearing but not thinking about what is being said, to the maximum level, which includes actively evaluating and applying what is being stated and understood.

To actively listen, leaders must learn to focus their attention on all elements of the conversation. This includes the tone, method of imparting their message and their personal perspective. Moving the communication process forward depends on the understanding of their message in a clear and concise manner.

While listening, leaders must realize the difference between focusing on what is actually being communicated and what is being verbally said. As they actively listen, leaders must compare this new information with what is already known, including individual issues and the concerns that are being raised.

Related: Focusing Your Employees on Common Goals

There are some preparation techniques that can assist leaders to become a more effective listener, including:

Eliminate Personal Bias

Many individuals have the tendency to prejudge issues and concerns or make false assumptions about various situations and problems surrounding needs and concerns based upon a personal bias. These opinions blind many to the other person’s point of view, which needs to be understood in order to move the communication process forward. While listening individuals should be taking the time to develop pertinent questions to expand upon the information shared.

Focus Full Concentration

Leaders should focus their attention on what is being said, ignoring all distractions. Listening allows them to compare what is being said to what is already known in order to determine how the new information applies to the situation. During pauses in the conversation, they should ask themselves, “Is this information accurate?” and, “Is it relevant?” Doing this helps keep the information that is important secure in their mind and available to reference as needed.

Related: Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Focus on Key Points and Major Facts

Active listening does not mean individuals should never ask a question to clarify what is not completely understood. Many issues and concerns include various viewpoints and perspectives. If differing perspectives do surface during a conversation, leaders must be certain they understand all points of view. Listening offers them the necessary space and time to accomplish this.

Effective Listening Techniques

The following techniques can be applied to enhance active listening skills:

  • Leaders should clear their minds of all outside distractions before meeting with the other person, be it a customer, associate or employee.
  • They should listen carefully to the other person’s initial remarks or statements. These generally offer clues to their primary concerns, problems and issues. Leaders should take careful mental notes as to which ones are emphasized.
  • Leaders should carefully listen for major issues and the key indicators of what the other person’s expectations are as they relate to their business, prioritize, and address them at the appropriate time during the conversation.
  • Leaders should carefully observe the other person’s verbal and non-verbal cues including his or her voice, eye contact, gestures and attitude. They should compare them at various points during the entire conversation as new messages, data or facts are conveyed. These specific communication signals indicate whether it is safe to move forward or time to readdress a particular point.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices effective communications tactics, strategies and techniques to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Need To Test Opinions Against the Facts

with 3 comments

Alfred Sloan

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated, “Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.” [i]

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well. People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.” [ii]

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions. On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ [iii]

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test: Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ [iv]

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar, Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”[v]

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the critical and investigative thinking of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

________________________________________________________________________
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It
and What You Can Learn From It
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[i]  Wartzman Rick, GM: Lessons from the Alfred Sloan Era (Business Week, June 12, 2009)

[ii]  Fisherman Charles, Face Time with Meg Whitman (Fast Company, April 30, 201)

[iii]  Miller Will, Joseph Irwin Miller. 26 May 1909 – 16 August 2004 (The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 150, No. 3, September 2006)

[iv]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[v]  Schleier Curt, William Blackie Put Caterpillar On An Upward Path Expand Your Horizons: The CEO Steered The Machinery Company’s Business All Over The Globe And Dug Up Massive Sale (Investor’s Business Daily, February 2, 2002)

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