At this very moment leaders everywhere are taking pause and asking questions they don’t always ask. News that employees of Wells Fargo created fictitious accounts – and put honest consumers at risk in the process – should have every leader assessing important dynamics within their organization. Yet, will they see the whole picture – and ask better questions? We must if we are to succeed.
The simple questions, the ones we know from our 20+ years of experience working with executives, that will be asked the most are: Do I have the right employees? Will the talent we have “do the right thing”? These questions, while important, reflect a limited understanding of why a business is getting the results it’s getting. The assessment is grounded in a belief that individual people create the outcomes we see on spreadsheets.
There will also be certain leaders who will rush to protect themselves and the organization by asking questions like these: Do we have safeguards in place to ensure unethical behavior doesn’t occur? Are our policies comprehensive enough? These inquiries also reveal a limited mindset, and explain why many organizations are drowning in bureaucracy and burdensome protocols.
For a company to do big things, however, we must also ask bigger questions. What type of questions are these? They’re inquiries that elevate our thinking, reinforce our values and cause more inspired actions. In our award-winning book, ONE Team, we call these Long Lever Questions. Here are a few that have proven effective in responding to leadership catastrophes like the one occurring at Wells Fargo:
- How do we ensure that the systems we’re building, and within which our employees function, always activate behaviors in people that are consistent with our brand?
- What aspects of our current culture can we more consistently reinforce so employees take even greater ownership of our corporate values?
- What can we do better or different as a leadership team to model the behavior we need to see more of from the organization?
The Wells Fargo calamity means we should ask these questions and others that elevate the course of affairs– because the questions we ask determine the direction the organization will go.
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