10 July 2020
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The questions you have to ask

Peter Switzer
13 October 2017

Over the years, I have interviewed some of the most impressive Australians from Prime Ministers like John Howard and Bob Hawke to legendary sportsmen like Herb Elliott and women like winter gold medalist Alisa Camplin, to some of the greatest business brains of all-time.

I suspect Richard Branson and GE’s famous CEO, Jack Welch pass that sniff test. And while I was asking the questions, my brush with the greats of high achievement taught me that these people are always asking the hard questions of themselves, and answering them honestly gave them their edge.

Life coach Tony Robbins believes in the power of asking the right questions. He has pointed out that: “Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”

The one question that has always struck me as the best any young person could be asked was directed at a young John Maxwell, who went on to become one of the great leadership thinkers of the world. He’s coming here next year and you should do your darndest to go and see him.

John said when he was at college he had a mentor and that brings me to my first question that will give you an edge and it’s:

John said when he was at college he had a mentor and that brings me to my first question that will give you an edge and it’s:

Do I need a mentor or a coach?

The answer is yes, definitely yes and lots of famous achievers say they owe a lot to having an objective set of eyes in their lives.
John’s mentor asked my favourite question of John, which every human being alive should be asked and it’s:

What is your plan for self improvement?

One of the standout characteristics of the standout from the crowd performers was their commitment to making themselves better. The most unlikely people have admitted to doing things like meditation and also they have indicated that they were influenced to get into it by people they respect, who also meditated.
Gerry Harvey reads biographies, while Mark Bouris does boxing to keep himself fit and ultra-alpha competitive.

On the subject of being competitive, Edward DeBono asked:

Do you think laterally or outside the square?

He argues the best competitors will size up their opponents and ask: do I have the tools for an edge? This might mean technology, better-trained people, brilliant contractors, efficient processes and a better understanding of what customers want. I’ve argued here before that Steve Jobs had a fanatical commitment to what his customers wanted but it was his determination to know what they want that explains the brilliance and success of Apple products.

I can’t recall who introduced me to SWOT but it’s a crucial question for anyone trying to build a business or a personal brand that goes like this:

What are my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

Great business plans are based on these honest questions that, if answered objectively, gives you the blueprint for a ball-breaking business plan. John Maxwell says you don’t have to become good at what you are weak at but instead make your weaknesses irrelevant by recruiting people who are strong where you are weak. And as Marcus Buckingham, the author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work, would advise: “operate in your strength zone.”

Undoubtedly, thinking about and writing down your SWOT is a great way to see where your opportunities for victories will come from and what you must do to beat threats and weaknesses.

And so being objective about what we do and how people respond to it brings me to the great sales and marketing question that runs like this:

Why should anyone buy from me?

This question ultimately defines what you are selling. Everyone is in selling – from financial planners to retail assistants to schoolteachers to politicians and even to a sporting team. The great teams attract big crowds because the people showing up like what the team is selling — success, thrills and positive reinforcement.
Australian sales coach Marty Grunstein argues our marketing messages can say any words we like but they must answer the buyer’s crucial question: “Why should I buy from you?” And that’s why the greatest unique selling propositions will do exactly that.

FedEx Corporation proves my point with their now famous USP of: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Again, with DeBeers their “A diamond is forever” has become legend, while David Jones nailed it with: “There is no other store like David Jones.”

One surprising revelation from my inquiries into great people is that they often ask a question that only helps them indirectly and it goes like:

Who can I help or bring on?

The great leaders not only achieve for themselves but help others achieve. The great coaches take good players and turn them into exceptional players and that becomes the pay-off — better people producing better results!

Obviously, the piece I’m writing and your reading today aims to inspire you to re-evaluate what you are doing in your business and/or your life, with the aim of prompting you to do things differently to get better results.

And so a crucial question has to be:

Who can help me get my competitive advantage?

With all endeavours you have to ask: What do I want? What is the price? And am I willing to pay the price?

It could be dollars to secure an expert employee, coach or partner or it could be getting up early and running 20 kilometres a day to get fit beyond your wildest dreams.

John Maxwell wisely counsels us that leadership does not happen in a day but daily. Anyone determined to win or improve has to have a daily commitment to beating what Herb Elliott calls “the little voice” that talks us out of doing things that are hard.

The exceptional Robbins, whom I’ve interviewed a couple of times, sums it up brilliantly in the following: “The quality of your life is not necessarily based on the quality of your circumstances, it’s based on your mental and emotional filters that determine your perception of the outside world.

“These filters have been shaped by a number of factors – your culture, your socioeconomic status, your race, your religion, your values, your experiences. And they influence the stories you tell yourself about who you are, what you’re capable of, and what’s achievable or not.

“By rewiring the root of these filters, however, we can begin to change our habitual perception patterns. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is by asking ourselves better questions.”

Herein lies the starting point for anyone who wants to get better results for themselves or their team or family. But you have to be willing to get into change. And if you can do it daily, you will get surprisingly great results!

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