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Criticality of the “So What” Question

As you lead your team, there is a critical aspect of your true leadership that you need to keep in mind as you help improve and enhance your team’s ability to process quickly in a rapidly changing “VUCA” environment; and in a timely manner they can make radical and great decisions at the point of attack. Let me introduce the picture of the So What Question. This arose in my episode of this week’s Podcast Business News Network (PBNN) radio show in which I was a guest with Host KC Armstrong.

I will also lay the foundation by highlighting that a colleague complimented me on how I communicate and led differently than others and she asked me about how my journey was different that developed this in me. I simply told her what I said on the PBNN Radio Program that through my journey and particularly in the Air Force, I served with some of the most amazing Leaders one could know. I also said that the most amazing leader I have ever served with and for was General Richard B. Myers (retired) who became the 15th Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2001. It is key to know that I did not grow by anything they told me. I grew by observing how they led their units but then applying the “So What” factor to what I learned and then brought it to what I became. It developed in me this truth:

“True Leaders…Look Higher…..and See Deeper!”

So let me start by pointing out that I heard a quote from Pastor Robert Jeffress and while he stated the idea in a faith-based foundation, I immediately realized that it’s critical in Leadership in any area, particularly that of an Adaptive environment. I offer this truth in a leadership perspective that is my application:

“If in your Leadership, you do not Apply and Answer the SO WHAT question….your Leadership MISSES THE POINT!” - Coach Randy

So, what do I mean by this quote? Allow me to offer an example. As the reader knows, in addition to coaching business and team leaders, I also bring coaching skills to train, develop and certify jet pilots and also to coach and mentor instructors that are brand new instructors or upgrading their qualifications.

There was one occasion where I was coaching an experienced pilot to be qualified to teach Groundschool to initial and recurrent jet pilots. This pilot has had good experience both flying in the military and also for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, as this person began the process of qualifying to be a Groundschool instructor and it was the first time, I gave her the option of choosing if there was one module that she was comfortable with doing and this person chose one module, so I did the other modules through the day to help model skills and techniques as she observed.

What was interesting but evident of the above concept is that towards the end of the day and we discussed thoughts and debriefed a bit, this instructor made this complimentary comment about what they observed in my teaching:

“It is interesting that unlike anybody else, you really bring the WHY behind the facts presented and it enhances the value. I have never seen that before!”

In fact, about 2 years later, a client contacted the company and applauded this IP and I by name. What the client sent included (although he included our names I won’t here) the following:

“For our last event we trained with (I and this instructor were included by name). I felt compelled to write about them because I witnessed firsthand how they both reacted to unique situations that developed during sim sessions helping my sim partner (who struggled every minute). They repeatedly showed a distinct level of instructional understanding only few others may achieve no matter how long they do this for a living. Their seamless application of unique teaching techniques facilitating a more cognitive learning process, both induced and incidental, were put into place with the elegance only certain individuals are capable of. I enjoyed the show every second.”

In today’s environment, the Dopamine Fix sneaks in and makes a manager want to just dictate to the team what to do. Remember that Dopamine is the chemical our brain uses to make us feel rewarded. Insidiously, it is about arrogantly just make them like me. However, if that is what you are doing in your team, your leadership “misses the point”.

True leaders help the team have clarity on theSo What picture such that the team can make great decision at the point of attack in a rapidly changing environment that may not meat an academic situation.

Let me ask you:

  1. As situations arise, what factors do you miss and what factors are you not even aware that you are missing?

  2. Are you even aware of the truth of the WHY behind the facts?

  3. In what ways relative the “SO WHAT” does your leadership “MISS THE POINT”?

Never forget “True Leaders…Look Higher…..and See Deeper!”

- Randy Swaim, Coaching for Relevance, LLC


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