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Leadership often about asking the right questions

From the Ground Up

If you are involved in a civic or professional group the chances are good that sooner or later you will be called upon to serve as its leader for at least a one-year term. There are five critical questions anyone assuming such a leadership role must address.

They are as follows:

• Where do I want to go?

• What will prevent me from getting there?

• Who will most likely be opposed?

• Do I have a timetable for reaching the goal?

• Who can help me most to reach the goal?

Let’s take a brief look at each one.

The first question relates to vision. Sometimes people confuse leadership with management. The leader is the one who determines where the organization is going to go. The manager implements and executes the plan and may actually take the group to Point B.

The leader assesses the situation, then analyzes and identifies the barriers to accomplishing the mission. These barriers might be physical, mental or personal. The leader will then be able to deal with those barriers at their weakest points.

It is a foolish leader who believes that every person in the group wants to see him or her succeed. The leader identifies who is opposed, why that person is opposed and then attempts to change that person from a foe to an ally.

The good leader includes a timetable as part of the plan to achieve the goal. It is important because it contains the benchmarks that are needed to measure progress.

Then there is teambuilding. Who can help me reach the goal? Permit me to share a lesson in teambuilding that I heard recently from the leader of the Southern Economic Development Council. His name is Bob Arnold.

Bob Arnold was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was six years old. By age 12 he was seeing only shades of light. When he entered the 10th grade at Franklin County High School in Kentucky he told the coach he wanted to try out for the baseball team. He couldn’t hit nor could he field the ball. But he could pitch. So the coach gave him a chance. He made the team.

The day came when he was named the starting pitcher. When the first batter came to the plate Bob reared back and threw his first pitch. The batter watched the ball go by, then watched as the catcher threw the ball to the shortstop, who then walked it to the pitcher and put it in his glove.

The batter turned to the catcher and asked, “Why did you do that?”

“Our pitcher is blind,” replied the catcher. “If I threw it to him he couldn’t catch it.”

“Sure,” said the batter, stepping back in the batter’s box.

The catcher crouched back down into position slapped his fist into his glove. Bob let go with his second pitch. Again, the catcher threw the ball to the shortstop and again the shortstop handed it off to Bob the pitcher.

“You can’t fool me,” said the batter. “There’s got to be a trick. If he’s blind, how does he know where to throw it?”

“Didn’t you notice that right before he pitches I tap my glove? He pitches to that sound. And you might want to cough or something so he will know exactly where you are standing.”

In his three years as a high school baseball pitcher, Bob Arnold, the blind kid won 17 games and lost 6.Bob Arnold is an inspiring speaker. This is one of his stories that he uses to illustrate that it takes teamwork to accomplish the mission.

It is not enough for the leader to walk in the room, stand in front of the group, articulate a vision, and then walk away. Even a blind person can do that.

Leadership skills are required to reach the goal or accomplish the mission. And one leadership skill is being able to ask the right questions.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@hardwick.com.

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