4 Questions that will Change Your Life: The Fundamental State of Leadership

We had a wonderful group of executives attend a program in Executive Education.  They were hungry to get better.  We organized the entire week around learning to enter the fundamental state of leadership.   One does this by answering four questions that are designed to help you move yourself and others from the normal, reactive state to the elevated, proactive state.  The questions are:

  • What result do I want to create?
  • Am I internally directed?
  • Am I other focused?
  • Am I externally open?

They loved the materials that were presented and, at every opportunity, they looked to apply them.  At the end of the day on Thursday, I gave them a role-play. I said, “On Monday you get on the elevator and the CEO is standing there.  To your shock, he says, “you just spent a week in Michigan.  That cost us a lot of money.  What did we get for it?”

The first answer was, “It was really good, and I learned a lot.”  This seemed to make sense to everyone.  I asked them to deeply analyze if the response was reactive or proactive.  Everyone was seeing the experience as a problem to be solved (How do I not upset the CEO and get off the elevator as soon as possible?).  Naturally, no one saw it as an opportunity to further his or her highest purpose and transform the organization.  I told them that thirty seconds on an elevator with the CEO is a chance to change the world.

We went back to the four questions they could use to elevate themselves.  Each group had time to prepare one person to stand up and role-play with me.  The other three groups were assigned to score each performance on a one to ten scale.  I also told them that when I, the CEO, asked them the above question, their first sentence had to be a question, not a statement.  I repeated this three times.

When the time came I asked the first person to stand.  He did not respond with a question.  He made an intellectual statement that did not engage me.  The other three groups gave him a score of three and everyone laughed, including him.  I continued.  Three out of four groups started with a statement not a question.  Each group received a three.  One group asked a great question, and I, the CEO, was engaged, so I asked a question back and the person did not know what to say.  The other groups, nevertheless, gave that group a seven.  Just their question gave them a higher score than the other groups.

I asked what they learned.  They told me they learned that it was hard to be proactive.  Then someone spoke up and said, “What would you do?”

I had one of them ask me the question.  I responded, “Why did you spend all that money on me, what result did you want to create?  My questioner stumbled and finally said, “To make you a better a leader?”  I said, “That is an amazing commitment on your part, thank you.   You must really care about the development of the people in this company.  It turns out that I have developed an idea on how to profoundly increase the leadership capacity of every executive in the company, quickly and efficiently.  I am wondering if you would be interested in talking about how to do that?”

The other person said, “Yes, come to my office for lunch on Wednesday.”

The room was frozen.  It was an extraordinary teaching moment.  I could see their minds spinning.  I asked what they learned.  There was an outpouring of insights.  Someone finally said, “Wow, we could make a difference.”  The whole week seemed to crystallize.

We ended the session and I was about to walk out.  A participant stopped me.  The person was in tears.  The tears increased as the participant told of a disastrous previous exchange with a senior authority figure.  The person then described an epiphany, “These last twenty minutes are twenty of most important minutes I have ever spent.  If I had understood what I understand right now, last week’s conversation would not have been a disaster, it would have had an incredibly positive outcome.”  The person was conveying gratitude. When we understand the four questions from this class, and how to use them, we immediately become more effective leaders. We can change the world.


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