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If I had nine hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my axe.Abraham Lincoln

I assure you I’m not advocating for procrastination—quite the opposite. I support due diligence in the necessary preparation work for nearly any endeavor. This holds especially true with how we lead others.

We must, at all times, do the leg work. Many thought leaders of the past 20 years have tried to overcomplicate the essence of leadership. Leadership is merely two factors: relationships and communication.

Leadership is not about being the boss but fostering positive relationships with those around you. And this takes time and effort. Just like Abraham Lincoln’s quote suggests – if we want to achieve something, we must prepare for it.

To foster relationships and communication as leaders, we first need to get to know people. Strive to be the most interested person in the room, not the most interesting.

Here’s a hint to help you: People generally don’t care about the things that make you attractive. Please don’t take that in a negative context; take it as an opportunity. You need not try to impress someone. You need not tell the story of how you climbed Everest.

The prep work in leadership comes from letting others talk about themselves.

Ask the right questions.

Take in, to heart, their responses.

Every person we meet has a fantastic story. How sad is it to think you will never hear about the amazing feats they have accomplished unless you take the time to discover them?

Do the work. Be the leader. Learn from those in your command. There is a lot of wisdom throughout the ranks. Don’t let the gift of that knowledge pass you by.

Asking the right questions acts as a catalyst in fostering excellent communication, enhancing understanding, and building relationships. Start with open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. For instance, “What do you think about the current project?” or “Could you tell me more about your experience in this field?” are good starting points.

Next, engage in reflective questioning, which involves rephrasing what they’ve said to ensure you understand them correctly. This also shows them you’re actively listening and value their input.

Finally, using hypothetical questions can stimulate creativity and open up new perspectives. They might involve scenarios like “What would you do if you were in charge of this project?” or “What changes would you implement to enhance our team’s performance?”

Remember, the key to excellent communication is asking questions and genuinely listening to the answers. Show empathy, understanding, and interest in their responses, which will pave the way for more vital, effective communication.

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