In October, I had the chance to attend Catalyst in Atlanta and hear from some of the best and brightest leaders in the country over two days. I’ve been to the conference multiple times and always enjoy the insights I gain from world-renowned leaders in business, non-profits and the world. This year was no difference, and one of my favorite moments was hearing from Andy Stanley.
Andy Stanley is the founder of North Point Ministries in the Atlanta area and is known around the world as one of the best leaders in the church. He gave two incredible talks at Catalyst, but the second one, for me, was a non-stop, note-taking bonanza. He centered his talk on the idea that great leaders ask great questions. Great leaders are always asking, “What would a great leader do?” So while I did take notes furiously during Andy’s time, only half of what I wrote down were quotes from Andy. The other half were thoughts he sparked in me.
What sparked for me was that I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t ask enough questions as a leader, as an employee, or even as just a person. Instead, I was making more statements than asking questions. That’s a dangerous game. When I make more statements than I ask questions, I’m setting myself up to be content and static. That’s the opposite of being a leader. By definition, a leader needs to push things forward and look to improve. Ultimately, leaders are called to learn, and learning always starts with asking questions.
Sounds easy enough, until you start to think through the right questions to ask. What questions will actually make you grow, improve, learn and find success? There’s a myriad of right answers to that question, and maybe each person will have their own list. However, I landed on three questions that I’ve started asking myself and my team that are helping us find success in our organization.
1. How did you build trust this week in our organization?
Lately, I’ve been reading and learning about the importance of trust in organizations. Stephen M.R. Covey examines the importance of trust in his book, The Speed of Trust and asserts that trust is the most important factor in making an organization effective and capable of moving quickly. It’s no secret that speed is important in today’s marketplace, so if trust is the key ingredient to moving faster, we should constantly be asking how we can improve in that area.
And the only way that you can improve your organization in the “trust” world is personally. You can’t force people to trust you more or tell your team to just trust one another more. Trust is earned. Trust is earned when you do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’ll do it. Trust is earned when you show character in a dicey situation. Trust is earned by having honest conversations. Trust can be earned a lot of ways, but it can be lost just as easily. If you’re consistently asking yourself how you can build trust, you’re going to be on the way towards speed and success.
2. What did you do this week personally to help us improve organizationally?
Full disclosure: I straight-up stole this from Andy Stanley, but it’s so good that I couldn’t resist. At North Point, one of their values is “Make it better.” So Andy was talking about how to apply that idea of making it better, and he said that he asks his team this question. Again, it’s a way of taking a big concept that you want to see across an entire organization and personalizing it. Because if we’re to change and improve an entire organization, the only thing that we can actually control is ourselves.
The idea of improving shouldn’t need much justification, either. The corporations, churches, non-profits, and small businesses that are successful are always adapting and getting better. There’s a reason that Apple doesn’t sell the iPod Mini anymore or that Nike’s revenue doesn’t center around the Aztecs. They’re improving and adapting constantly to stay one step ahead of the competition.
And improving personally each week doesn’t have to be drastic. For me, sometimes that means just discovering a new podcast that teaches me something I can use at work. Other times it means learning a new skill in Photoshop or creating a new resource for our team to use. Small improvements each week lead to big results not just for yourself personally, but also for your organization.
3. How did you exceed someone’s expectations this week?
The idea of wanting to grow, learn or improve coincides with this idea of exceeding. Because to get better means to go to a new place that’s greater than where we currently are. It means to go above and beyond. So what better question to ask ourselves than how are we doing that? What’s one little thing you did this week to exceed someone’s expectations?
For my team, that sometimes means we deliver a request early or create an extra graphic just to provide more options. Other times, we can exceed someone’s expectations by surprising them with a coffee or taking them out to lunch, or by bringing people into a process they aren’t normally a part of. Giving value to someone’s opinion is a fantastic way to go above and beyond, showing them your intent to work better alongside them.
All in all, exceeding expectations is pushing forward, forging ahead and taking new ground.
If you consistently exceed expectations, you create a new normal for both yourself and your organization, and that’s when the fun begins.
The organizations that are changing the world with their innovations and creativity do so because they’re doing more than what is expected of them.
Heading into each week, I like to keep these three questions out in front of me so that I can look for ways to keep growing. And I think setting the container of doing each of these things weekly is important because there’s something about doing a little bit consistently that seems to make it the most effective change. Taking one step week in and week out towards building trust, improving personally and exceeding expectations leads to continued growth and improvement that will be felt both personally and across your entire organization.