Anrah News - January 2015
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James Caan is a highly successful businessman and my favourite Dragon's Den (TV show) investor. He has 3 reasons for his success:

  1. people like him

  2. he is curious to learn from others

  3. he believes business success is not about profitable transactions, it's about good relationships.

When he was on the panel in Dragon's Den,  he sat quietly while the others kept grandstanding, bickering and competing with each other. Then he intervened and asked the devastating question. Indeed, he has written that the foundation of success is in asking questions - the right questions.

The obvious consequence of not asking good questions becomes poor decision making. And as Edgar Schein says in his book "Humble Inquiry" the art of questioning becomes more difficult as status increases. Leaders in our culture are supposed to be wiser, set direction and articulate values which predisposes them to 'telling' rather than 'asking'. Yet leaders need to ask genuine and sincere questions and build trusting relationships with subordinates to gain good upward communication. Without that communication, organisations are neither effective or safe.

Effective leaders I have met cultivate humility. They know absolutely that they are reliant on people to deliver their vision. In asking good questions, the whole team gains valuable shared intelligence, engages in independent and creative thought and by having a hand in the decision making, they have a stake in the outcome.

So how to develop a 'questioning' rather than 'telling' attitude? 
  1. Ask questions of yourself. Leaders must ask themselves and others what could be done better or differently. Keeping yourself under scrutiny as to bias and motives is vital. Always. 
  2. Cultivate sincere interest in others. People know when you fake it. Positive engagement generates positive regard.
  3. Keep quiet after you've asked the question, however much you are tempted to intervene or finish sentences.
  4. Ask 'open' questions - questions for instance that start "What.....?" or "How....?" to elicit full information.
  5. We've all come across managers who used questioning to pick on someone, to carp or show they were the smartest in the room. Your questions can be tough and direct though always in the spirit of helping to move the plan or project along, pinpoint unconscious assumptions and solving problems. 
  6. It's worthwhile to ask questions about the organisation every so often. You need to ask about practices, processes and structures - "Why do we do things this way? Is there a better approach? What's the point?"
  7. And in my experience the very best phrase, "So what?" This gets to the heart of what people actually mean that underlies what they say.
When this shy, gentle, incisive, brilliant woman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, the Daily Mail's headline read "Oxford housewife wins Nobel".

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's
 early education was sketchy. However, at the age of 10 she was given a little chemistry book which started her off growing copper sulphate and alum crystals. By the time she left secondary school she want to study Chemistry at Oxford and decided to specialise in the new field of X-ray crystallography. During this time she was diagnosed with crippling and painful rheumatoid arthritis (in fact, later in life, the artist, Henry Moore sketched her deformed hands because he was so moved by them).

Dorothy Hodgkin's lab was primitive - a damp floor and no heating. Electric cables hung from the ceiling. And the only way to access sufficient light was to climb up and down a flight of stairs. In the first years cracking even the simplest crystal took many thousands of mathematic calculations on a hand adding machine. This could take months and even years.

Hodgkin began by decoding the cholesterol crystal. She designed electron density maps that identified and modelled greatest density and news spread of her success. She was given more and more complex crystals to study. In 1941 she was given penicillin. Up until then penicillin was produced from mould and given only to soldiers because it was so difficult to get hold of. Their urine was then recycled to extract the penicillin. Once Hodgkin uncovered the code, penicillin could be manufactured synthetically saving countless millions of lives. All this whilst being married to a fellow peace campaigner and raising two children in a chaotic household on Woodstock Road.

She went on to uncover the structure of B12 and insulin and in 1965, she was awarded the Order of Merit, only the second woman to be awarded the OM (the first being Florence Nightingale). Throughout the '60s and '70s she campaigned vigorously for peace and became President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In the '80s she wrote to Margaret Thatcher, a former student suggesting she visit the Soviet Union. Thatcher duly did so and developed close rapport with Soviet President Gorbachev. Wheelchair bound by the arthritis Dorothy Hodgkin continued to travel the world to scientific and peace conferences until her death in 1994.
Anrah News
My associate, Richard Goodier and I are working at Oxford's Institute of Biomedical Engineering training doctoral students and post-docs on "How to get Researchers Successfully Hired". On a lighter note, I came across some genuine interview questions to challenge the candidate:
  • If you could be Batman or Robin, which would you be?
  • What would I find in your fridge right now?
  • If Hollywood made a movie of your life, whom would you want to play you?
  • How would you design a spice rack for a blind person?
  • If you were a character from Star Wars, which one would you be?
  • If I assembled three of your former supervisors in a room and asked them about you, what would they say about you that you would say is not true?
I'd love to hear of any you've been asked that are just downright weird. Many thanks!
Due to popular demand there will be another “Stand Out from the Crowd: Leadership and Gravitas Training” workshop on on Friday January 22nd 2016 at my office at  Sandford Gate, Eastpoint Business Park, Oxford.
The event runs between 10am and 5pm and will have a maximum of five attendees. The morning will focus on your inward presence and the afternoon on your outward presence and leadership skills. Lunch is provided. For more detail please email me or give me a ring on 07939 261743. I have only 2 more available places.
Do you want coaching and training on developing:
  • credibility
  • gravitas
  • influence
  • increased reach
  • stakeholder buy-in
  • leadership authority
Please email me or call 07939 261743 to discuss your objectives for yourself or your leadership team and how I could help you achieve them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Copyright © 2015 Anrah, All rights reserved.

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