I remember when I read John Maxwell’s book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.
I enjoyed the book and used my yellow highlighter to mark many salient points. I enjoyed the book so much I lent it to someone a few years ago. They must have enjoyed it as well since I’ve not seen it since.
Maxwell’s book, like a lot of books, purports to share the foundations or keys to being a successful leader. In fact, the complete title of his book is Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.
One might be forgiven for believing his book is all you need to be a successful leader. On the contrary, even Maxwell must not believe that point since he’s authored over 70 books on leadership subjects alone, according to one news outlet.
I’ve read many of Maxwell’s books along with numerous books on leadership by other authors. For years, almost every time I read a book, I would highlight a key point, write some notes in the margin, and then put the book back on the shelf where it gathered dust.
Recently, I’ve decided that I only need a few great leadership books. What I’ve learned is that it is important to supplement those leadership books with books on a multitude of different topics. I addressed this point in an article I posted in November 2020.
It is this way of thinking and approach that makes me similar to Bill Gates. You know – Mr. Microsoft - one of the world’s richest and successful people.
In the last of my three-part series on the connection between emotional intelligence and trauma, I want to share insights related to Daniel Goleman’s idea of focusing on the wider world. In my first article, I wrote about focusing on yourself. In the second, I wrote about focusing on others.
According to Goleman in his Harvard Business Review article, “The Focused Leader,” he recounts a story where Gates read a whole book on fertilizer while researching technological advances. Why? Because without fertilizer, “a few billion people would have [died].” If Gates stayed (i.e., read) only in his lane then certain advancements in the tech world and human world would not have taken place. A good example is Gates’ newly released book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.
Gates's example of reading widely and Goleman’s admonition to focus on the wider world collide in business schools around the teaching of developing a winning strategy. A winning strategy has two main elements: exploitation and exploration. In other words, exploitation is how to enhance your current business advantage and exploration is how to seek out new advantages. You need both to succeed.
It turns out that when we just coast on our laurels (i.e., doing what we’ve always done), our brain rewards us, and we feel good. There’s something about the comfort of familiarity or the rush of getting ahead of a competitor that pumps our brains with dopamine and results in our desire to keep going back to the same well for more pleasure.
In contrast, when we switch to the exploration mode, we make a cognitive choice to “roam widely and pursue fresh paths.” This switch requires us to make a definite choice away from the familiar and forces our brains to call upon its executive function prowess to mine new data and develop new processes.
Unfortunately, our cognitive abilities are interrupted by “sleep deprivation, drinking, stress, and mental overload.”
I heard Goleman say in that sentence, “our ability to think straight and make advancements is impaired by the effects of trauma.”
This brings us back to Gates. In a world where the playing field is becoming more leveled by advances in technology, putting together divergent ideas in a novel way by asking great questions opens up untapped potential. The question we should be asking is, “What is getting in our way of executing our strategy?” One important answer is almost always the effects of adverse childhood experiences and childhood trauma.
Goleman highlights for us that when we “immerse ourselves in all kinds of input, we remain alert for anything relevant to the problem at hand; selective attention to the specific creative challenge; and open awareness, in which we allow our minds to associate freely and the solution to emerge spontaneously.”
No longer can we blindly adhere to leadership quotes and principles that tell us we just need to work harder, think positively, or treat people well and don’t incorporate a trauma-informed approach to leadership.
Goleman concludes his article with these thoughts:
- If great leadership were a paint-by-numbers exercise, great leaders would be more common. Practically every form of focus can be strengthened. What it takes is not talent so much as diligence – a willingness to exercise the attention circuits of the brain just as we exercise our analytic skills and other systems of the body. The link between attention and excellence remains hidden most of the time. Yet attention is the basis of the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organizational, and strategic intelligence.
Today, if you want to improve your leadership skills, I encourage you to pay attention to the books and resources that expound upon the lingering effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and childhood trauma and countering those effects through the science of hope.
Most importantly, spend time practicing what you learn. Take one thing – just one! – and work on it over and over. If the execution of the idea doesn’t work the first time – lean in! Don’t quit.
And by all means, dust off one of those leadership books and start thinking about what great questions you can ask when it comes to incorporating trauma into your leadership style.
- “Live to learn, and you will really learn to live.” – John Maxwell
For more information on “(Re)Building Trust: A Trauma-informed Approach to Leadership,” please visit my website mrchrisfreeze.com.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash