Saturday, March 31, 2007

An exclusive article by Ira Chaleff for aimkaam !

Dear friends,

I am extremely happy to inform you that Mr.Ira Chaleff has sent an exclusive article for the benefit of our aimkaam group and hope it will enhance our learning experience to face new professional challenges ahead.

On behalf of aimkaam group and our fellow netizens, I appreciate and express my gratitude to Mr.Ira Chaleff, award winning writer of the book 'Courageous follower' which is highly relevant in these days of attrition and unproductive employee relations in the workplace.

The following is the letter from Ira Chaleff, followed by his article, appreciating the efforts of aimkom which strives to reach out people from all walks of life and committed to serve Society to empower youth through Soft Skills training and development.

My Dear Rama Phani,

I appreciate the fine work you are doing. If you would care to make this article available to your students, clients or readers please feel free to share it. It is good that there are voices like your introducing these concepts in the evolving India culture.


Ira Chaleff
Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates
513 Capital Court NE
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20002

T: 202 544 0097

Author of the award winning book The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders, Berrett-Koehler, 2003



One of the most important skills of the effective executive is the ability to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions are those that cause people to examine their assumptions and opinions, their methods of arriving at conclusions and their unexamined predispositions that limit their awareness of options. One powerful question can lead to reinventing an entire business or, for that matter, a life. More mundanely, it can create the conditions for project success, client satisfaction, or a problem’s solution.

But it is not just the executive who should be free to ask powerful questions. If those around the executive are also encouraged to develop this faculty, an executive team becomes both a source of continuous breakthroughs and a self-correcting organism.

Regardless of who asks the powerful question, those involved in the conversation must be willing to hear powerful answers. Powerful answers often challenge the assumptions of the question itself and, by extension, the assumptions of the questioner. Their value, therefore, is only as great as the questioner’s capacity to hear answers implicitly challenging their paradigm. In the case of the senior executive, his or her strategy or very vision may come into question. It requires a confident and balanced leader to allow questioning that probes to this depth.

Instinctively, the leader may react to defend the foundation of the strategy or vision. Whether these should or shouldn’t be defended, the effect of the leader’s defensive response can shut off further powerful exploration of the most important issues the organization faces. Therefore, the senior executive must occasionally use the most powerful question in his or her arsenal:

• “Is there anything I do that discourages giving me your fully candid views on the most important issues facing us?”

Over time, that question must be varied to retain its power. The following may not sound like the same question but they serve the same purpose of discovering blockages to critical dialogue.

• “What, in your view, are my strengths? Do they ever get in the way of examining deeply enough what we are doing?”
• Is there anything you have tried telling me recently that I don’t seem willing to hear or don’t fully get?
• Is there anything everyone is convinced I will never change my mind about?
• How can I help create the conditions for more healthy robust disagreement in our dialogue?
• Is there anything I would probably consider heresy that we should talk about anyway?

It’s a truism that we usually can’t see past our current paradigm, or way of viewing the world. There is a natural tendency to dismiss, discount or disapprove of questions or ideas that seem ignorant or flaunting of our paradigm, of how we think the world works. Yet these may be the most important questions or ideas for us to hear.

Our instinctive defense of our paradigm, combined with the power of our position, dissuades others from questioning too hard or answering too forthrightly. And thus we are left with blind spots that are larger and more dangerous than they need be.

Occasionally turning the searchlight of powerful questions onto ourselves can illuminate that which is unseen and on which dialogue, innovation and self correction all stumble. Ask a few of these questions and be very disciplined about listening to the answers. See what you learn. Then ask new powerful questions.

Ira Chaleff
President Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates
Author: The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders, 2nd edition, Berrett-Koehler, 2003