5 Ways to Utilize Questions as Leadership Tools

The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization.

– Dev Patnaik

Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”

A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ (read unleash) creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

SOLUTION – Utilize Questions as Leadership Tools

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask by Michael J. Marquardt

Many leaders are unaware of the amazing power of questions. Our conversations may be full of requests and demands, but all too often we are not asking for honest and informative answers, and we don’t know how to listen effectively to responses. When leaders start encouraging questions from their teams, however, they begin to see amazing results. Knowing the right questions to ask―and the right way to listen―will give any leader the skills to perform well in any situation, effectively communicate a vision to the team, and achieve lasting success across the organization.

Thoroughly revised and updated, Leading with Questions will help you encourage participation and teamwork, foster outside-the-box thinking, empower others, build relationships with customers, solve problems, and more. Michael Marquardt reveals how to determine which questions will lead to solutions to even the most challenging issues. He outlines specific techniques of active listening and follow-up, and helps you understand how questions can improve the way you work with individuals, teams, and organizations.

Now more than ever, Leading with Questions is the definitive guide for becoming a stronger leader by identifying―and asking―the right questions.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Questioning is more important today than it was yesterday – and will be even more important tomorrow – in helping us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to get there. We’re all hungry for better answers. But first, we need to learn how to ask the right questions.

Asking more of the right questions reduces the need to have all the answers.

The better we as leaders become at asking effective questions and listening for the answers to those questions, the more consistent we and the people with whom we work can accomplish mutually satisfying objectives, be empowered, reduce resistance, and create a willingness to pursue innovative change.

Asking questions can be, and often is, a very simple process. When, however, you find that you are confronting a very difficult issue, and you want to plan things out ahead of time, it can be useful to follow a simple process.

Breaking the Ice

It is useful to start with casual questions to put people at ease and get them talking. A simple closed question (“Is this a good time to talk?”) can often get the ball rolling. Friendly, open-ended questions (“How’s your day been?”) can be used to encourage the other person to open up.

Setting the Stage

As you are setting the stage, you are framing the question by establishing the context and background for the conversation. Setting the stage is primarily bout you, not the other person. A learner mindset, not a judger mindset, is critical to getting free and honest answers and open conversation.

Asking Your Questions

When asking questions, keep your focus on the questioner and the question. The quality of the response is affected not only by the content of the question but also by its manner of delivery, especially its pace and timing. Remember that you are engaging in a conversation, not an interrogation, and you should be prepared to be questioned in turn as the conversation moves along.

Listening and Showing Interest in the Response

When you get a response, say “thank you.” This will increase the likelihood that you’ll get more and deeper answers the next time you ask. When your questioning respects people’s thought processes, you support their own questioning of long-held assumptions. To be an effective questioner, wait for the answer – don’t provide it yourself.

Following Up 

Someone who has openly and thoughtfully answered your questions deserves to know what you did the with information. The process will have to produce meaningful, positive change. By learning how to follow up efficiently and effectively in an extremely busy world, leaders will enable key stakeholders to see the positive actions that result from the input they were requested to provide.

Michael J. Marquardt, Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask

A NEXT STEP 

By consciously adopting a learning mindset, we can become more open to new possibilities and ask questions more effectively.

Author Michael Marquardt provided the following suggestions to help you coach others and adopt a learning attitude:

  • Respond without judging the thoughts, feelings, or situations of other people.
  • Consider yourself a beginner, regardless of experience.
  • Avoid focusing on your own role and take the role of an outside observer, researcher, or reporter.
  • Look at the situation from multiple perspectives, especially your respondents’.
  • Look for win-win solutions.
  • Be tolerant of yourself and others.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Accept change as a constant, and embrace it.

Spend a few minutes in prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment in your own growth as a leader. After this time, re-read the above list, and decide which action should be a seven-day focus for you. Make a list of people and situations in which you can employ this action, and spend the next few days intentionally pursing growth in this area. Revisit the list in a week and repeat as necessary.

All Endings Set Up New Beginnings

Among the many, many lessons from 2020, one certainly has to be that the pace of everything has accelerated.

At Auxano, we always strive to serve church leaders to the best of our ability

When the last two intersect, it’s time to make changes…

As we, like every church leader right now, assess everything we are presently doing in order to maximize future impact, it’s clear that even some of our best resources need to change.

The last issue of SUMS Remix was delivered Thursday, April 22*.

If all you’re doing is the jobs you used to do, you’re certainly missing out on the contributions you’re capable of.

Seth Godin

Those who know me know my personality style, emotional makeup, and characteristics. If you don’t, this should give you a clue:

  • Myers-Briggs – INTJ
  • DISC – C (almost exclusively)
  • Insights – Blue (deep, deep, blue)
  • Enneagram – 5, wing 6
  • Fascination Archetype – The Archer
  • Strengths Finder – Learner, Intellection, Input
  • APEST – Teaching

There’s more, but you get the drift.

SUMS Remix, and SUMS before it, have been an integral part of my work life since the fall of 2012. The idea of a creating a book summary product was one of my three primary tasks when I joined Auxano earlier that year.

Anything connected to reading, learning, and curiosity about the world around us was a natural fit for me – I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. It was instilled in me and modeled by my father, orchestrated by my mother, and a natural part of my brother’s and my childhood.

By the numbers, here’s where I’ve been:

  • 8 years, 5 months of constant production cycles for SUMS and SUMS Remix
  • 227 issues (includes 6 special, “commissioned” issues)
  • 574 books referenced
  • Several hundred more considered, but not used
  • 6 vertical book towers and two shelves in my office, holding the above referenced books
  • 3 postal carriers, and dozens of Amazon drivers, making regular visits to my house
  • 1 very gifted team: Bryan Rose, Andrea Kandler, and James Bethany – creative input, grammar and style development, and graphic designer, respectively. They made it happen, week after week.

And it’s over.

Better is possible… if we care enough to walk away from what was  and brave enough to build something new. 

Seth Godin

To best meet challenges facing leaders in a post-pandemic, accelerated-pace-of-ministry life, our team is redirecting our resources used to produce SUMS Remix to a laser-focus on these four areas:

  • Vision Clarity – because the post-pandemic church must be even more engaging and focus on accomplishing their unique disciple-making call
  • Visionary Planning – because every ministries and leaders must work in complete alignment toward a collaborative understanding of God’s better future
  • Generosity Culture – because giving has been steady over the last year, but we must grow everyone to be generous disciples
  • Generosity Campaign – because healthy growth requires resources, and how the church funds large-scale initiatives must change

If any of those areas resonate within you or your leadership and you would like to know more about how the Auxano team can help your leadership in this new era, just fill out this connection card and one of our Navigators will reach out and schedule a quick call.

I’ve already jumped headfirst into the world of research and writing for engagement, real-time development of content that leaders are asking questions about, and supporting our Navigators in their onsite and virtual journeys with churches across the country.

When it comes to books and reading, I’m still making weekly trips to the library, still curious about the world around us, and still adding to my “To Be Read” lists, because…

Want to talk books, ideas, and such? Leave a comment below!

* That day is significant in many ways, not the least of which it was the only issue (out of 221 SUMS and SUMS Remix) that was not delivered on our “every other Wednesday” target, which began in October 2012. Just sayin’…

If You Want to Solve Your Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?  

THE QUICK SUMMARY – What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Are you solving the right problems? Have you or your colleagues ever worked hard on something, only to find out you were focusing on the wrong problem entirely? Most people have. In a survey, 85 percent of companies said they often struggle to solve the right problems. The consequences are severe: Leaders fight the wrong strategic battles. Teams spend their energy on low-impact work. Startups build products that nobody wants. Organizations implement “solutions” that somehow make things worse, not better. Everywhere you look, the waste is staggering. As Peter Drucker pointed out, there’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.

There is a way to do better.

The key is reframing, a crucial, underutilized skill that you can master with the help of this book. Using real-world stories and unforgettable examples like “the slow elevator problem,” author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg offers a simple, three-step method – Frame, Reframe, Move Forward – that anyone can use to start solving the right problems. Reframing is not difficult to learn. It can be used on everyday challenges and on the biggest, trickiest problems you face. In this visually engaging, deeply researched book, you’ll learn from leaders at large companies, from entrepreneurs, consultants, nonprofit leaders, and many other breakthrough thinkers.

It’s time for everyone to stop barking up the wrong trees. Teach yourself and your team to reframe, and growth and success will follow.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

For almost all problems that leaders face, by the time the problem reaches them, someone has probably framed if for them.

  • Complaints about elevators? They’re old and slow – they need to be replaced.
  • Team problems? Do they blame failure on others? Do they resist following you? Do they lack passion?
  • Productivity issues? Do you always run out of time on projects? Lack the resources to complete the job?

Author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg wants you to look at problems like these differently, with two thoughts in mind.

First, the way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with. 

And, by shifting the way you see the problem – by reframing it – you can sometimes find radically better solutions.

Sometimes, to solve a hard problem, you have to stop looking for solutions to it. Instead, you must turn your attention to the problem itself – not just to analyze it, but to shift the way you frame it.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Step 1 – Frame

This is the trigger for the process. In practice, it starts with someone asking, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” The resulting statement – ideally written down – is your first framing of the problem.

Step 2 – Reframe

Reframe is where you challenge your initial understanding of the problem. The aim is to rapidly uncover as many potential alternative framings as possible. You can think of it as a kind of brainstorming, only instead of ideas, you are looking for different ways to frame the problem. This might come in the form of questions or in the form of direct suggestions.

There are five nested strategies to help find these alternative framings of the problem. Depending on the situation, you may explore some, all, or none of these:

  • Look outside the frame. What are we missing?
  • Rethink the goal. Is there a better objective to pursue?
  • Examine bright spots. Where is the problem not?
  • Look in the mirror. What is my/our role in creating this problem?
  • Take their perspective. What is their problem?

Step 3 – Move Forward

This closes the loop and switches you back into action mode. This can be a continuation of your current course, a move to explore some of the new framings you came up with, or both.

Your key task here is to determine how you validate the faming of your problem though real-world testing, making sure your diagnosis is correct. At this point, a subsequent reframing check-in may be scheduled as well.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

A NEXT STEP 

In addition to the wealth of resources provided by the author, he provides an excellent section of how to create multiple working hypotheses when considering how to reframe a problem.

To consider multiple working hypotheses is to simultaneously explore several different explanations for what might be going on. By doing this upfront, you inoculate yourself against the danger of a single perspective.

Choose a problem that you are facing or expect to face in the near future, and work through the following approach in reframing it:

  • Never commit to just one explanation up front.
  • Explore multiple explanations simultaneously until sufficient empirical testing has revealed the best choice.
  • Be open to the idea that the best fit may be a mix of several different explanations.
  • Be prepared to walk away if something better comes along later.

Begin addressing a problem by coming up with other viewpoints and solutions at the beginning so you can avoid falling in love with a bad idea. And remember that problems almost always have more than one solution.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-2, released March 2020

8 Reasons Great Leaders Understand the Value of Questions

The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization. – Dev Patnaik

Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”

A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ – read “unleash” – creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – – Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John Maxwell

John Maxwell, America’s #1 leadership authority, has mastered the art of asking questions, using them to learn and grow, connect with people, challenge himself, improve his team, and develop better ideas. Questions have literally changed Maxwell’s life. 

In Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, he shows how they can change yours, teaching why questions are so important, what questions you should ask yourself as a leader, and what questions you should be asking your team.

Maxwell also opened the floodgates and invited people from around the world to ask him any leadership question. He answers seventy of them – the best of the best.

No matter whether you are a seasoned leader at the top of your game or a newcomer wanting to take the first steps into leadership, this book will change the way you look at questions and improve your leadership life.

A SIMPLE SOLUTIONGood Leaders Ask Great Questions by John Maxwell

Good questioners tend to be aware of, and quite comfortable with, their own ignorance.

The impulse is to keep plowing ahead, doing what we’ve done, and rarely stepping back to question whether we’re on the right path. On the big questions of finding meaning, fulfillment, and happiness, we’re deluged with answers—in the form of off-the-shelf advice, tips, strategies from experts and gurus. It shouldn’t be any wonder if those generic solutions don’t quite fit: To get to our answers, we must formulate and work through the questions ourselves. Yet who has the time or patience for it?

If you want to be successful and reach your leadership potential, you need to embrace asking questions as a lifestyle.

John Maxwell

You Only Get Answers to the Questions You Ask

There is a gigantic difference between the person who has no questions to help him/her process situations and the person who has profound questions available.

Questions Unlock and Open Doors That Otherwise Remain Closed

Successful leaders relentlessly ask questions and have an incurable desire to pick the brains of the people they meet.

Questions Are the Most Effective Means of Connecting With People

Before we communicate we must establish commonality, and the most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions.

Questions Cultivate Humility

If you are unwilling to be wrong, you will be unable to discover what is right.

Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation

Asking questions helps people know that you value them, and that, if possible, you want to add value to them.

Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas

Any idea gets better when the right people get a chance to add to it and improve it. Good ideas can become great ones when people work together to improve them.

Questions Give Us a Different Perspective

By asking questions and listening carefully to answers, we can discover valuable perspectives other than our own.

Questions Change Mindsets and Get You Out of Ruts

If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, ask questions.

Remember: good questions inform; great questions transform.

John Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

A NEXT STEP

On the top of four chart tablets, write the four phrases listed below:

  • Questions Help You to Engage Others in Conversation
  • Questions Allow Us to Build Better Ideas
  • Questions Give Us a Different Perspective
  • Questions Change Mindsets and Get You Out of Ruts

Review the explantation given for each in the excerpt above, and then spend 15 minutes with each question, listing as many questions under each category as you can.

At the end of the hour brainstorming session, review your lists, and circle the top three in each category.

Intentionally weave these questions in your conversations and discussions over the next two weeks, consciously noting how asking the questions changed the direction of the conversation (both positively and negatively).

At the end of this two-week period, evaluate how you can make questions a regular part of your leadership habits.

How to Recognize – and Avoid – Problem Blindness as a Leader

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?

SOLUTION #1: Avoid problem blindness

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath

So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We stay downstream, handling one problem after another, but we never make our way upstream to fix the systems that caused the problems. Cops chase robbers, doctors treat patients with chronic illnesses, and call-center reps address customer complaints. But many crimes, chronic illnesses, and customer complaints are preventable. So why do our efforts skew so heavily toward reaction rather than prevention?

Upstream probes the psychological forces that push us downstream—including “problem blindness,” which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst. And Heath introduces us to the thinkers who have overcome these obstacles and scored massive victories by switching to an upstream mindset. One online travel website prevented twenty million customer service calls every year by making some simple tweaks to its booking system. A major urban school district cut its dropout rate in half after it figured out that it could predict which students would drop out—as early as the ninth grade. A European nation almost eliminated teenage alcohol and drug abuse by deliberately changing the nation’s culture. And one EMS system accelerated the emergency-response time of its ambulances by using data to predict where 911 calls would emerge—and forward-deploying its ambulances to stand by in those areas.

Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Author Dan Heath believes that with some foresight, we can prevent problems before they happen, and even when we can’t stop them entirely, we can often blunt their impact.

Of course, there are barriers to this line of thinking, and the first of those barriers is profoundly simple: you can’t solve a problem you don’t see, or one that you perceive to be a regrettable but inevitable condition of life.

Problem blindness is the first barrier to upstream thinking. When we don’t see a problem, we can’t solve it. And that blindness can create passivity even in the face of enormous harm. To move upstream, we must first overcome problem blindness.

Problem blindness, also know as inattentional blindness, is a phenomenon in which our careful attention to one task leads us to miss important information that’s unrelated to that task.

Inattentional blindness leads to a lack of peripheral vision. When it’s coupled with time pressure, it can create a lack of curiosity. I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing. 

The escape from problem blindness begins with the shock of awareness that you’ve come to treat the abnormal as normal.

Next comes a search for community: Do other people feel this way? And with that recognition – that this phenomenon is a problem and we see it the same way – comes strength.

Something remarkable often happens next: People voluntarily hold themselves responsible for fixing problems they did not create. The upstream advocate concludes: I was not the one who created this problem. But I will be the one to fix it.

Dan Heath, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

A NEXT STEP

How can you, personally, move upstream? Consider your own problem blindness, Which problems have you come to accept as inevitable that are, in fact, nothing of the kind?

A hallmark of work by both author Dan Heath as well as his brother Chip is the excellent resources they provide. One of those is a book club guide.

Here are a few questions drawn from that guide, relating to the topic of problem blindness. Set aside some time to both reflect and act on them,

  1. Problem blindness is the belief that negative outcomes are natural or inevitable. Do you think your organization suffers from problem blindness? If so, in what areas?
  2. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” is a quote often used in leadership circles. Does this idea resonate with you? What examples do you see in your organization?
  3. When people reflect on our society 50 years from now, what areas do you think they will be shocked by, areas that we are suffering from problem blindness?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-1, released April 2020

You can purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix – learn more here!

Leadership Lessons from Visionaries, Part Four: Steve Jobs

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

The first installment was a look at Walt Disney. The second installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from a select biography of Steve Jobs, giving you background on his excellent of use of “vision” and “communication.” The third installment, along with this one, will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts from each man, each with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is my hope that you will be inspired to live and lead 2021 with clarity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ wildly popular presentations have set a new global gold standard―and now this step-by-step guide shows you exactly how to use his crowd-pleasing techniques in your own presentations.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is as close as you’ll ever get to having the master presenter himself speak directly in your ear. Communications expert Carmine Gallo has studied and analyzed the very best of Jobs’ performances, offering point-by-point examples, tried-and-true techniques, and proven presentation secrets in 18 “scenes.”

With this revolutionary approach, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to sell your ideas, share your enthusiasm, and wow your audience the Steve Jobs way.


A SIMPLE SOLUTION

According to author Carmine Gallo, if you want to utilize the techniques he writes about that Steve Jobs used so successfully, you must also understand and practice another quality of Jobs: a profound sense of mission.

If you are passionate about your topic, you’re 80 percent closer to developing the magnetism that Jobs had. Steve Jobs didn’t just lead a company to develop and build computers, music players, phones, and pads – he fell in love with the vision of how personal computing would change society, education, and entertainment.

He then translated that vision with a passion that was contagious, infecting everyone in his presence.  It was that passion that comes across in every presentation, and can serve as a model for you.

The most inspiring communicators share the ability to create something meaningful out of something esoteric or everyday products.

In keeping with Jobs’ metaphor of a presentation as a classic story, here are three acts, along with the respective “scenes” that flesh the acts out.

Act One: Create the Story. These seven scenes will give you practical tools to craft an exciting story behind your brand. A strong story will give you the confidence and ability to win over your audience.

  1. Plan in Analog – Visualize, plan, and create ideas before you open the presentation program.
  2. Answer the One Question that Matters Most – Why should I care?
  3. Develop a Messianic Sense of Purpose – What is the foundation of your charisma?
  4. Create Twitter-like Headlines – Be persuasive in fewer words.
  5. Draw a Road Map – The rule of three.
  6. Introduce the Antagonist – What is the common villain of your audience?
  7. Reveal the Conquering Hero – Who will offer your audience a better way?

Act Two: Deliver the Experience. In these six scenes, you will lean practical tips to turn your presentations into visually appealing and “must-have” experience.

  1. Channel Their Inner Zen – Be simple, visual, and engaging.
  2. Dress Up Your Numbers – Data is meaningless without context.
  3. Use “Amazingly Zippy” Words – Discover and use words that work.
  4. Share the Stage – Treat your presentations as a symphony.
  5. Stage Your Presentation with Props – Deliver demonstrations with pizzazz.
  6. Reveal a “Holy Cow” Moment – Plan surprises for maximum impact.

Act Three: Refine and Rehearse. The remaining five scenes will take topics such as body language, verbal delivery, and making “scripted” presentations sound natural and conversational.

  1. Master Stage Presence – Understand and utilize body language.
  2. Make It Look Effortless – Perfect practice makes perfect.
  3. Wear the Appropriate Costume – Know your audience and dress accordingly.
  4. Toss the Script – Talk to the audience with strong eye contact.
  5. Have Fun – Even when things don’t go according to plans.

Carmine Gallo, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

A NEXT STEP

If you haven’t already, check out samples of Steve Job’s product presentation events listed below. Even if you have already viewed them, rewatch them with the 18 “scenes” above handy for reference.

Watch videos of Steve Jobs conducting select product launches:

How can you improve your presentations with these guidelines?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 135, released January 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Leadership Lessons from Visionaries, Part Three: Walt Disney

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

The first installment was a look at Walt Disney. The second installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from a select biography of Steve Jobs, giving you background on his excellent of use of “vision” and “communication.” The third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts from each man, each with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is my hope that you will be inspired to live and lead 2021 with clarity.

When we think of Imagineering, we think of Disney theme parks. But Imagineering is a creative process that can be used for nearly any project, once you know how it works. Lou Prosperi distills years of research into a practical how-to guide for budding “Imagineers” everywhere.

The Imagineering Process is a revolutionary creative methodology that anyone can use in their daily lives, whether at home or on the job. Prosperi will teach you first how Disney uses the Imagineering Process to build theme parks and theme park attractions, and then he’ll show you how to apply it to your own projects, “beyond the berm.”

You’ll learn how to begin as the Imagineers begin, with an evaluation of needs, requirements, and constraints, and then you’ll delve into the six stages of the Imagineering Process: blue sky, concept development, design, construction, models, and the “epilogue,” where you hold your “grand opening” and assess the effectiveness of what you’ve built.

From there you’ll see the process in action through a selection of interesting case studies drawn from game design, instructional design, and managerial leadership.

At the end of your master class, you may not be a bona-fide Imagineer, but you’ll be thinking like one.

VISION APPLICATION

Before the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, the inner workings of the Imagineers of the Walt Disney Company were considered industry secrets, guarded closely, with only glimpses available from the occasional book by a retired Imagineer.

The Imagineering Story, a six-part “behind-the-scenes” series produced by Leslie Iwerks, the granddaughter of Walt Disney’s first partner and creative genius Ub Iwerks, leads the viewer on a journey behind the curtains of Walt Disney Imagineering, the little-known design and development center of The Walt Disney Company, to discover what it takes to create, design, and build the magic of Disney around the world.

For leaders who might have seen this series, or even just heard about it, there are additional resources that help apply the principles of the Imagineers to real-world challenges found in organizations just like yours.

I think for many of us the challenge lies in finding the right model of how creativity and the creative process work so we can apply it in our own fields.

There are seven pieces or stages in the Imagineering process. Five stages form the core of the process, while the other two serve as its Prologue and Epilogue.

Prologue: The goal of the Prologue is to define your overall objective, including what you can do, can’t do, and must do when developing and building your project.

Blue Sky: The goal of the Blue Sky stage is to create a vision with enough detail to be able to explain, present, and sell it to others.

Concept Development: The goal of the Concept Development stage is to develop and flesh-out your vision with enough additional detail to explain what needs to be designed and built.

Design: The goal of the Design stage is develop the plans and documents that describe and explain how your vision will be brought to life.

Construction: The goal of the Construction stage is to build the actual project, based on the design developed in the previous stages.

Models: The goal of creating models and prototypes is test and validate your design at each stage to help solve and/or prevent problems that may arise during the design and construction process.

Epilogue: The goal of the Epilogue is to present your project to your audience, allow them to experience it, and evaluate its success and effectiveness over time.

Louis J. Prosperi, The Imagineering Process

A NEXT STEP

Author Louis Prosperi has provided an Imagineering Process Checklist for leaders to use as a guide in applying the principles listed above in their organizations. Listed below are a few examples for you to consider.

Prologue: Does your team really know what they need to create?

Blue Sky: How can you help your team define their story (vision) and creative intent?

Concept Development: What don’t you and your teams know about your project yet?

Design: Are team members collaborating and communicating as they work on separate parts of the project?

Construction: How can you help your team as they “build” the pieces and components of the project?

Models: How can you help test your team’s design?

Epilogue: How will you evaluate the success of your project?

Using these examples as a guide, continue to develop a checklist to guide the development and implementation of your project.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 135, released January 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Listen to One Person During Conversations

Communication skills – of all types and to all sizes of groups – are one of the leaders’ most important skill sets.

Successful leaders are able to constructively communicate with others.

However, some situations give even veteran leaders pause:

  • Nervousness when speaking to groups
  • Dominating (unintentionally) conversations
  • Arguments and disagreements

When it comes to these situations, leaders must be the “one” to make improvements.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Think on Your Feet by Jen Oleniczak Brown

Most people react to the unexpected with anxiety and unease. We get rattled, stumble over our words, and overthink the situation. Others, though, handle it with self-assurance and aplomb. They gain a sense of empowerment and energy when the pressure is on.

Like great improv actors, they’re able to think on their feet.

The great thing is, improv isn’t about winging it or flying by the seat of your pants; improv at its core is about listening and responding. It’s based on rules and techniques, and it taps directly into your soft communication skills. By incorporating it into your prep work for professional situations, you’ll learn how to retrain your brain for the unexpected and get out of your own way in those unexpected―and expected―professional situations. Practicing improv isn’t about being funny. Instead, it’s about developing the mental agility to spin any surprise in your favor and to communicate with confidence.

Filled with engaging improv activities, this interactive guide will ensure you never come away from a tough moment pondering the woulda, coulda, shoulda! again. You’ll learn how to nurture your personal style for communicating in every professional situation. From effective listening in the office, giving presentations, and leading meetings to negotiating a raise, acing an interview, and more, you’ll start communicating with confidence and stop letting the unexpected hold you back. Take your workplace communication―and your career―to the next level by mastering the art of Thinking on Your Feet.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Many leaders are either too busy to listen or are more interested in speaking. As a result, listening intently, regularly, and respectfully to team members separates the great leader from the good one.

According to author Jen Oleniczak Brown, everyday personal conversations are the hardest form of communication. After all, when you are preparing a sermon or presentation, you usually have a structure to follow, and most times, you are going to be rehearsing it prior to delivery.

Interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is all improvisation. You can plan and plan and plan, and you’ll still have no clue how the person you’re talking to will respond to anything you’re saying.

While interpersonal communication is one of the most unexpected parts of professional communication, it can be the most rewarding. It’s not every day you give a massive presentation or lead group meetings. Chances are, it is every day you talk to people in your office. That makes it something you can almost immediately work on and improve, with just a little nudge.

There are ways to practice and prep for this type of communication, especially when you spend time on active listening.

If you haven’t tapped into a basic foundation element like listening, you can’t get into the back and forth of exchanging information, giving feedback, or asking questions.

To improve our interpersonal communication, we need to understand how we listen. Taking note of the ways you show your active listening forces you to pay closer attention to how well you listen.

There are many different ways to listen, and the most common types of listening in professional communication are information listening (listening to learn), critical listening (listening to evaluate and analyze), and therapeutic or empathetic listening (listening to understand feeling and emotion).

Informational listening is what we might do in a meeting that we don’t really care about. We’re just attending to the information, taking it in and often taking notes we might look at later.

Critical listening involves thinking about what the person is trying to say – you’re thinking beyond just the words you’re hearing. You’re digesting the information and digging into it, whether with verbal reflection or internal thought.

Empathetic listening happens more in our home and personal life. You’re thinking about feelings and emotions. Empathetic listening should be used to understand how the speaker might feel or the circumstances around what they are saying.

Jen Oleniczak Brown, Think on Your Feet

A NEXT STEP

Author Oleniczak Brown suggests the following exercises to help you begin to identify and improve your active listening skills in the three areas mentioned above.

First, how do you show you’re listening? Take a moment and think about a recent conversation. If you can’t remember one, immediately following your next conversation, show that you’re listening. Maybe it’s smiling or nodding – or maybe it’s another way. Jot a few physical and mental actions down before you forget – and don’t spend so much time paying attention to yourself that you forget to listen.

Next, turn on the TV, a podcast, or a video. First, listen for the three different types of listening skills, and write them down as you hear them.

Now listen to learn for two minutes, and then listen to evaluate and analyze for another two, and if appropriate, listen to understand feeling for another two minutes. Write down a few similarities and differences for each type.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 137, released January 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Leadership Lessons from Visionaries, Part Two: Steve Jobs

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

The first installment was a look at Walt Disney. The second installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from a select biography of Steve Jobs, giving you background on his excellent of use of “vision” and “communication.” The third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts, each with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is my hope that you will be inspired to live and lead 2021 with clarity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years – as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues – Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.  

Although Jobs cooperated with the publication of Steve Jobs, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.


VISION COMMUNICATION ILLUSTRATION

While Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is remembered in many ways for the successful innovations he led Apple to accomplish, undoubtedly his most memorable public moments were the product introductions he unveiled over the years.

An Apple product unveiling by Steve Jobs was not a dry, technical recitation. Instead, Jobs electrified his audiences with his incomparable style and showmanship. He didn’t just convey information in his presentations; he told stories, painted pictures in the listener’s minds, and above all, shared a vision of what could be.

A presentation by Steve Jobs was a transformative experience that his audience found unique, inspiring, and unforgettable.

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.              

Steve Jobs

The Apple II Launch Event – April 1977

It is important to “impute” your greatness by making a memorable impression on people, especially when launching a new product. That was reflected in the care that Jobs took with Apple’s display area. Other exhibitors had card tables and poster board signs. Apple had a counter draped in black velvet and a large pane of backlit Plexiglas with Apple’s new logo. They put on display the only three Apple IIs that had been finished, but empty boxes were piled up to give the impression that there were many more on hand.

The Macintosh Launch Event – January 1984

The lights dimmed as Jobs reappeared onstage and launched into a dramatic version of the battle cry he had delivered earlier during the Macintosh’s development.

“It is 1958. IBM passes up a chance to buy a young fledgling company that has invented a new technology called xerography. Two years later, Xerox was born, and IBM has been kicking themselves ever since.”

“It is now 1984. It appears that IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, after initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and –controlled future and are turning back to Apple as the only force who can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all, and is aiming its guns at its last obstacle to industry control, Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?”

As he built to the climax, the audience went from murmuring to applauding to a frenzy of cheering and chanting. But before they could answer the Orwell question, the auditorium went black and the “1984” commercial appeared on the screen. When it was over, the entire audience was on its feet cheering.

With a flair for the dramatic, Jobs walked across the dark stage to a small table with a cloth bag on it. “Now I’d like to show you Macintosh in person,” he said. He took out the computer, keyboard, and mouse, hooked them together deftly, then pulled one of the new 3½-inch floppies from his shirt pocket.

The theme from Chariots of Fire began to play, the word “MACINTOSH” scrolled horizontally onscreen, then underneath it the words “Insanely great” appeared in script, as if being slowly written by hand. Not used to such beautiful graphic displays, the audience quieted for a moment. Wild cheering and shrieks erupted from the audience, followed by a five-minute standing ovation.

The iPod – October 2001

When it came time to reveal the product, after he had described its technical capabilities, Jobs did not do his usual trick of walking over to a table and pulling off a velvet cloth. Instead he said, “I happen to have one right here in my pocket.” He reached into his jeans and pulled out the gleaming white device. “This amazing little device holds a thousand songs, and it goes right into my pocket.” He slipped it back in and ambled offstage to applause.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

A NEXT STEP

Set aside some time to view these launch events, and take notes on how you might adapt Jobs’ techniques to upcoming events in your organization.

Watch videos of Steve Jobs and select product launches by clicking on the links below:

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 135-3, released January 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

How to Transform Your Communication Using Data Stories

Most church leaders, especially the senior pastor or teaching pastor, rightfully view their skills as a communicator to be one of the most important aspects of their position. From the weekly sermon to regular leadership meetings to training and development presentations to special, one off events, the spoken word is of paramount importance to church leaders.

With all the information in data form available to you, how do you communicate it?

To be the most effective communicators we can be, leaders must learn to use the data we need to communicate as a powerful narrative – a narrative that others will recall and retell.

 

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Data Story, by Nancy Duarte

Scientists have proven that stories make the brain light up in ways no other form of communication does. Using story frameworks as a communication device for data will help make your recommendations stick and be acted on.

Organizations use data to identify problems or opportunities. The actions others may need to take today from your insights in data could reverse or improve the trajectory of your future data. So, communicating data well drives very important outcomes.

Even though most roles depend on data, communicating well is the top skill gap in roles using data. The essential skill for today’s leaders (and aspiring leaders) is shaping data into narratives that make a clear recommendation and inspire others to act. 

Almost every role today uses data for decision-making. As you grow in your career, you can become a strategic advisor and ultimately a leader using data to shape a future where humanity and organizations flourish.

Duarte and her team have culled through thousands of data slides of her clients in technology, finance, healthcare, and consumer products, to decode how the highest performing brands communicate with data.

Data Story teaches you the most effective ways to turn your data into narratives that blend the power of language, numbers, and graphics. This book is not about visualizing data; there are plenty of books covering that. Instead, you’ll learn how to transform numbers into narratives to drive action.

  • It will help you communicate data in a way that creates outcomes both inside and outside your own organization.
  • It will help you earn a reputation as a trusted advisor, which will advance your career.
  • It will help your organization make faster decisions and inspire others to act on them!

Nancy Duarte is one of the preeminent storytellers in American business and the acclaimed author of Slide:ologyResonate, and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations comes this book that will help you transform numbers into narratives.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Author Nancy Duarte poses this interesting question in her book, Data Story: “What if you sliced data and found a huge problem or opportunity?”

She goes on, saying, “Data did its job, but now it needs a storyteller. How insights are communicated could reverse or improve the trajectory of data. The actions you ask others to take today change your future data.”

The best communicators make data concise and clearly structured while telling a convincing and memorable story.

Data doesn’t speak for itself; it needs a storyteller.

With prolific digital devices and technological advancements, every person, place, thing, or idea can be measured and tracked in some way. But without identifying the story emerging from the data, it’s of little to no value. 

Why is storytelling so important? Because the human brain is wired to process stories. By transforming your data into vivid scenes and structuring your delivery in the shape of a story, you will make your audience care about what your data says.

Story is the primary method used to engage hearts and spur action. Storytelling makes the brain light up in a way no other form of communication does. Story has the ability to help the listener embrace how they may need to change, because the message transfers into their heart and mind.

Stories engage our senses

When we find ourselves hooked to a particular storyline, that resonance begins in our brains. This is the first trigger to enabling a physical and emotional response.

Stories bring us closer together

If you’ve ever felt a wave of emotion while listening to a story, that’s because our brains are naturally activated and eager to physically process the emotion associated with oral description.

Stories move us to feel

Giving your audience a vicarious thrill puts them at the center of your story, making them feel like they are the hero themselves.

Stories move us to act

Stories that capture our attention cause us toe emotionally connect with others and feel motivated to embark on a course of action.

Nancy Duarte, Data Story

A NEXT STEP 

Author Nancy Duarte suggests the following ideas to help transform numbers into narratives. Try these out the next time you have to communicate data to your audience.

Attach the data to something relatable. To help your audience understand the magnitude of the data, compare it to things that are familiar to them.

Develop a sense of scale. While data must always be precise, trying to help others understand it doesn’t have to be. Approximations help convey the scale of the number quickly.

Connect data to relatable size. Common measures of length, area, and volume can be compared to relatable objects in our lives.

Connect data to relatable time. Time and speed, because of their familiar use in our lives, are a good source of comparison.

Compare data to relatable things. Along with size, time, and speed to understand a number, compare various nouns to one another to comprehend quantity and scale.

Express how you feel about the data. Let your emotions about outcomes show.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 133-2, December 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<