In his book, The Leader’s Greatest Return, John Maxwell writes:

“I read that when Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric, he used to send out a memo to the incoming participants of the executive development course before they attended the first session. In it, he directed them to think about their answers to a group of questions that he wanted them to be ready to discuss. Here’s what he wrote:

Tomorrow you are appointed CEO of GE:

  • What would you do in the first thirty days?
  • Do you have a current “vision” of what to do?
  • How would you go about developing one?
  • Present your best shot at the vision.
  • How would you go about “selling” the vision?
  • What foundations would you build on?
  • What current practices would you jettison?”

Can you imagine those conversations? I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for some of those. 

Every week, our team evaluates what we’re doing. We ask three questions: what went right? What went wrong? And how do we make it better? (Thanks to Andy Stanley for that framework). We’ve been using that framework for years for our after-action reports. We ruthlessly evaluate, and no one is above or immune to those questions. 

One of the things I look for in our meetings and interactions is how honest team members will be with the feedback they share. Are they too polite to be honest? Are they too afraid to be honest? Do they consistently have helpful feedback? Is it delivered kindly and authentically? My goal is for every member of our team to be able to share what we call “the last 10%.” The first 90% of feedback is typically easy; it’s that last 10% that we often hesitate to share. But I’ve learned that last 10% is where the truly transformational change is! 

As you are on the lookout for emerging leaders in your organization, what traits are you looking for? What questions are you asking?

I believe the right questions lead us to the right answers. The wrong questions are too often the first ones we ask, and they are rarely the best ones. Learning to ask good questions is a skill. It takes time, it takes energy, and it takes intentionality. 

Again, from Maxwell’s book:

“Usually the people who can think, problem-solve, and communicate under pressure have good leadership potential – not all, but most. Sometimes you run across a good thinker and talker who’s not a doer. And occasionally you find a good thinker and doer who has a tough time communicating. Nevertheless, ask questions. When you gather people, if all you do is give orders, all you will get is order takers. That’s not what you want. You want leaders.”

What questions do you ask to evaluate candidate or team members’ leadership potential? 

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