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Leading the witnessOne of the most powerful values of belonging to a peer group is the candid feedback you receive from your fellow members.  As I lead my two CEO private advisory boards I am amazed at how insightful my members are when discussing an issue that one of their fellow members has brought before them.

We have a distinctive procedure we follow in a Vistage group to get the maximum benefit from any issue a member brings before his or her group.

The first is to allow the individual 4-5 minutes to explain exactly the decision facing them.   Often times I need to cut the person off as they feel the need to launch into a story about the issue which takes up time and usually does not add any more clarity to the discussion.  How often does this happen in meetings you lead with your staff?  Facilitating any meeting requires being present so the discussion does not go down a nonproductive rabbit hole.  Reflect back when you have been in the audience and the moderator allows this to happen.  But I digress.

Once the member has explain briefly what decision they are facing and the type of feedback they are looking for from the group we open the discussion up to what we call “clarifying questions”.  I call it being curious.  What is it you need to know about the issue at hand that will give you the information you need to make a valuable recommendation to the member with the issue?  After all, they are looking for ideas they haven’t thought of and are expecting their fellow members to enlighten them.  The aspects of running a business are not unique even though no one in my groups is in the same industry.  That is the “ah hah” moment many new members have when they first join a Vistage group, that the issues the other members face in their businesses are the same as they have been facing for years.  And it sure is comforting to learn from someone who has been there, done that.

As the members ask their clarifying questions occasionally I stop the conversation for what I call a “teaching moment”.  Here is what I mean and the point of today’s message.

Recently a member brought an issue to the group and his question was “How do I get my people focused on improving gross profit?”  His concern was that his project managers bid on jobs but then do not watch them closely enough to make sure they are making the profit on which the project has been bid.  They often throw more resources at the project whenever the customer complains or if they are behind schedule.  All of this is done without understanding the negative consequence of reducing the project’s profitability.

During the questioning segment of the process one member asked “How do you currently hold your project managers accountable for performance?”  Which was a great question.  Only he didn’t stop there.  He then asked “Do you have them complete progress reports?  Do you have weekly project meetings to monitor the progress of each job?  Do you have a debrief at the end of each project?”  This I call “leading the witness”.  The original question was an open-ended question, which was thought provoking.  But what he did next was to give examples of an answer to the member.  If I’m the member I respond with the answers he gave me because, obviously, in the questioner’s mind this is what he would do.  At the time I immediately called a time-out for a teaching moment and shared my observation without making the questioner wrong because his original question was a perfect question.

When you are having a conversation with a direct report and are trying to understand how they make decisions how often do you suggest to them a solution in your question?  Have you thought about doing…?  During your next meeting be mindful of when you do that or are about to do that.  You will need to be comfortable with silence because the other person may not have an immediate answer for you, which is good.  Your goal is to ask questions that make them think.  Now you are creating a leader for your organization.  Try it.  You will be amazed at what the other person will share with you and the insights you will learn in how they think.  Enjoy the silence.

Consider Reading This

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, author of the biography of Steve Jobs, now focuses on the people who created the computer and the Internet.  Who were these people and how did they turn their vision into the digital revolution that is today?  Isaacson goes all the way back to the 1840s and a woman named Ada Lovelace, who pioneered computer programming.  Yes he profiles the Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ of the current era but he also introduces us to forward thinkers, many of whom we have never heard.