How to be a Good Leader – Listen – Value Diversity – Avoid Prejudice

Good leadership often involves good listening skills. Listening involves a number of key skills including reserving ones own judgement, not jumping to conclusions and  avoiding prejudging individuals and situations. Good leaders when facing difficult situations are able to put to one side preconceived ideas and find a number of solutions by using the skills and experiences of those around them.

In the late eighties I learned a valuable lesson from a very young man in Zambia. I was travelling in the copperbelt of Zambia with Chris my then Sales Director. We were in Zambia as I had been given the responsibility for sales development in the country and Chris was handing over the reigns. We had just spent a productive day in Chingola  and  were on the way back to Kitwe, our resting place for the evening.

Thirty minutes into the journey we heard a loud bang and the car started to sway from side to side. Our driver managed to bring the car safely to a halt. We climbed out of the car to find the rear passenger side tyre was as flat as a pancake. Our driver quickly moved to reassure us by saying.

No worries Bwana, Have spare tyre. Will change now now.

As the driver opened the boot to get tools and the spare tyre, a number of locals, no older than seven years of age came out of the bush offering to sell us all kinds of things. We politely refused most of the trinkets but very happily bought a couple of Cokes to cool us down in the heat of the African summer.

As we watched the driver slowly raise the car via the jack we heard an almighty crack. The jack broke and the car fell heavily back onto the road. What were we to do now? There we were in the middle of nowhere, with a car on three wheels with no way to change a tyre. At this point the engineer in Chris and I kicked into gear. We were working out the best way to change the tyre as quickly as possible. After all we did not want to be on the road in the dark. Many locals had died in crashes on the roads at night. We only had around thirty minutes of daylight left so needed to act quickly.

We went into the bush and collected some stones that we could use as a support. We then used manpower to lift the car via the wheel arch and put the stones under the vehicle as a substitute for the jack. Sadly the travel in the shock absorber meant that we could not gain sufficient height to remove the wheel. We then had a flash of brilliance – let the air out of the tyre. We confirmed with the driver that he had an air pump. We quickly started to let the air out of the tyre at which point a young barefooted boy wearing only a loincloth came toward us with hand-held out palm side up and said.

Can do Dollar

Chris and I both looked at each other. We wondered how someone in the bush with little or no clothes can do a better job than two engineers with more combined qualifications than a Nobel peace prize winner. We brushed aside the young boy and forged ahead. As we slowly removed the air from the tyre we eventually realised that we still did not have enough clearance to replace the tyre.

Again the boy approached.

Can do, Dollar

Once again we brushed him aside despite having around 200 dollars in my pocket. Chris and I went into a sweaty and flustered huddle. Time was now passing us by. We now had quite a crowd of locals gathered around somewhat bemused by the failed efforts of these two wise and worldly men’s attempts to change a tyre. Chris spotted that one of the observers had a machete. We asked if we could borrow it and went into the bush to cut some bamboo to use as a lever.

Again the young boy came across and hand-held out said,

Can do Bwana, Dollar!

Again we chose to go with our training and instinct. We tried to use the bamboo as a lever but the car shifted and came crashing to the ground with the stones scattering in all directions. We were now in a worse position than when we started. To make things worse we had consumed much time meaning we would now be travelling on the road at night with all the risk that entailed. Not a great result.

At this point Chris and I looked at each other and admitted defeat. Exhausted by the heat and frustration of our failed attempts We beckoned the young boy towards us and handed him one of the dollars that till now had been kept safely in my pocket. We was greeted by a warm and beautiful smile and instant action.

The boy called a number of his friends from the bush. They lifted the vehicle up a few inches and placed stones under the wheel axel. They then began to dig down into the road with their bare hands! One thing we had not thought of was digging down! Why would we? Roads in the UK are made of tarmac – not clay. Three minutes later the wheel was changed and we were on our way.

On our way back we began to reflect on our performance as educated and wise men! What would we do differently in future. After all our actions had put us at risk as we were now travelling on roads where many dangers lurked in the dark of the night. Thankfully we reached Kitwe safely.

On the way back home we agreed we had learnt many a lesson that day in Zambia. Here are a few of them.

  1. We do not always have all the right answers (despite our qualifications and experience). Others with different points of view given the chance can and often do come up with answers that we would never think about.
  2. Listen. If someone says they can do something then let them do it. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  3. Learn not to prejudice a situation or an individual. I am not proud to say that at this time I did brush the boy aside as I felt that someone of that age and background could not offer me anything. How wrong I was!
  4. Judge people by what they say and do. Not by how they look!

Now when I find myself jumping to conclusions or prejuding individuals or situations, I remind myself about my Zambian experience.  This life experience has taught me how to be a better leader of both myself and others.


Presentation Skills – Handling Tough Questions

We have all been there. We have just given a perfect presentation to an audience who have responded with a warm round of applause. We are feeling pretty chuffed as everything has gone so well. However all presenters have one final hurdle to overcome. Taking questions after a presentation.

Answer questions confidently and succinctly and you are home and dry. Knowing how to answer questions after a presentation is part and parcel of being an effective presenter.

Any questions? You cheerfully ask

At this point you hope that some kindly soul asks a straight forward question to which you have a well crafted response –  it might have been wise to have “planted” a few easy questions with a friendly colleague who is in the audience to get the first question under your belt.

However today is not that day.  Unfortunately someone has decided that they disagree with some of your comments/content and they are about to let you know by asking a challenging question that puts you right on the spot. Even worse the nature of the question is such that you are unsure how to respond and at the same time you want to limit any damage to your reputation as an effective presenter and subject matter expert.

There are a significant number of techniques to effectively handle tough questions from the audience. When I am faced with this situation I simply think of “who wants to be a millionaire” as an aide memoir to a number of possible techniques one could use to remedy the situation.

What has “who wants to be a millionaire” got to do with handling difficult questions after a presentation I hear you say? Well when a participant on the TV show does not know the answer to a tough question they are given three options. These are……….

  1. Ask the audience
  2. Phone a friend
  3. 50/50

However prior to launching into one of the millionaire techniques above it is recommended that presenters follow the sequence of events below.

  1. Thank the delegate for their question/comment.
  2. Be sure you understand the question – Seek clarification by paraphrasing.
  3. Then use one of the “millionaire techniques”
  4. Thank the delegate for their question/sharing their experiences with the audience.
  5. Next question.

Thank you for your question

Can I just check that I have understood you correctly. What you said is you would like to know………

Have I understood you correctly?

This should at least create some rapport with the questioner in the sense that you are taking their question seriously and want to understand their concern before you respond. This technique creates time and space for you to think and ultimately decide the best course of action to take to handle/diffuse the situation.

Having given yourself the time in which to think, here are the three “millionaire” options you can use to get things back on track.

Option I – Ask the Audience

One option would be to ask the audience if they have any experience of the subject matter?

Many thanks for your question. Sadly I do not have any experience or knowledge of the numbers you are quoting. I wonder if there is anyone in the audience who could respond and add some clarity to our colleagues question?

At this point someone in the audience may actually answer the question on your behalf and you can then thank the questioner and participant for sharing their experience with the audience.

Option 2 – Phone a Friend

This would be where you simply are unable to provide an answer to the question and rather than bluff your way, a better course of action would be to use “phone a friend”.

Many thanks but I cannot provide an answer to your question/concern right now. However I am confident that some of my colleagues will be able provide valuable comment/input. Could we get together after the presentation concludes and exchange details. I will then ask a number of my colleagues who may be in a better position than myself to answer your question.

That way we can get back to you with a response. Is that OK?

Option 3 – 50/50

What I am alluding to here is that there could be two possible correct answers. It is possible that both presenter and questioner could be right as they both are looking at the subject matter from different perspectives. As a consequence they could have opposing views.

Getting into a public debate about who is right and who is wrong would be ill-advised. On the face of it this can be the most difficult situation to handle as both parties want to be seen to be right. To make things worse all of this is being played out in front of an audience.

In this situation you could respond along the following lines;

Many thanks for your question and sharing your point of view with the audience. My viewpoint is based entirely upon my experience of the subject matter to date and I stand by my assertions/findings.

However I would be interested in learning more about your experiences and explore how this might impact on both our points of view. Could we get together in the break and exchange details and find out how we could share our experience. Would that be OK? Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to meeting you in the break.

Do we have any other questions from the audience?

There are many other techniques to handle difficult questions. If you have a great technique for handling difficult questions then why not add them via the comments box.

Happy presenting.

Attracting Visitors to an Exhibition Stand

Photo provided by Kokoon Ltd

I am often astounded at the lengths some exhibitors will go to in order to get a “prospect” to stop on their stand.

These stop and sell methods include anything from scantily clad bodies (male and female), magicians, games, competitions etc. I have even witnessed exhibitors physically standing in the isles thrusting brochures into peoples hands hoping to get them to stop or at least take away literature that is most likely of no relevance whatsoever to the recipient. Having used these tactics to “successfully” stop their victim they then go on to force these poor unsuspecting souls into “taking a look at what they have to offer”.

Granted as an exhibitor one does need to find a way to attract people onto a stand – not only to establish if there is any way in which you can both work together but also without actual visitors it is impossible to get an return on the investment. However do we really need to physically man handle people onto the stand or draw them in under false pretences just so we can sell at them?

Here is a simple and very effective way to get someone to stop for long enough to  start-up a conversation. Having gained their attention you go on to build some rapport and then through a process of effective dialogue establish if they might be interested in what you have to offer.

All visitors to exhibitions and conferences these days are issued with a name badge. Assuming like me you can read a delegate badge at five paces simply smile warmly and say.

Good Morning Jim (Person’s name)

Now Jim  will immediately stop and say good morning. On hearing ones name it is a natural reaction to stop and turn to the person who has greeted you. As they try to work out how you know each other simply ask;

How are you finding the exhibition Jim?

Jim quite naturally responds.

Very good thank you.

You have now struck up a conversation and can then ask other questions.

What brings you to the exhibition?

As you build up some level of rapport, you will eventually get to a point when either they will ask you to tell them what you do or you can ask them;

What do you know about (our company)?

Now you have their permission to say what it is you do. From here you can discover if there is any interest in what you have to offer and start to build a relationship and take it on from there.

I used this name technique the other week when working for a client on their exhibition stand and achieved the following results;

  1. 85% of people whom I greeted using their name, stopped to talk.
  2. approx 75% of those who stopped asked me to tell them what it is we do!
  3. Approx 60% actually booked onto a course within the next eight weeks.

Compare this with the same greeting including the smile;

Good Morning. How are you?

How many people stopped to talk with this greeting? Well I will tell you it was around 15-20%. What does this tell us?

It tells us very clearly that names are important to us as individuals. Try it the next time you are working an exhibition stand.

I guarantee you will get more people to stop and talk without the need for any tricks or gimmicks.

If you want to know more about getting results from you exhibitions why not contact me.

Happy hunting.

Identifying Needs: Asking the right questions

school-kids-0167Identifying client requirements is an essential component of being a good sales person/negotiator. There is only one way to find out what a client wants and that is to get them talking. Good salespeople and negotiators spend more time listening than talking and are adept at using questioning skills to uncover client needs. The best way to get a client to talk is by asking relevant questions to the situation. Using the right type of questions can make your job easier than you might think.

There are two types of questions (open and closed) and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Getting the balance right between open and closed questions can make dialogue much easier and consequently the flow of information is more readily exchanged.

Closed Questions

These questions require a client to answer yes or no. Closed questions can be used to control a dialogue. They can even be used to pre-condition a person into saying yes. Ask three closed questions one after the other where the answer is yes and the likelihood of the fourth answer to a question being yes is significantly increased since a habit of responding yes has been formed. The same applies if the response is no. Three closed questions with a no response means that subsequent closed questions are likely to be met with a no.

Whilst closed questions can be used to ascertain positive and negative responses and even hone in on specifics, closed questions do not encourage a client to open up and conversation can often be short, sweet and awkward. Closed questions begin with phrases such as;

• Are you?

• Do you?

• Could you?

• Would you?

• Will you?

• Can you?

Open Questions

Open questions simply encourage the client to open up and provide information relevant to the discussion. They can also help develop a feeling of mutual interest and trust. Open questions should be designed to help you gather information that will enable you to offer a solution to a customer need. Open questions should enable you to find out what products or services the customer currently uses and how he or she feels about them.

Open questions begin with;

• Who?

• What?



• When?


• How?

Open questions can be preceded with the TELL ME phrase. Tell me who? Tell me when? Tell me how? Tell me why? etc. This is a personal choice and should only be used when you feel the other person would be comfortable with such a lead. It can be deemed as an instruction and used inappropriately can lead to the other party clamming up and providing little or no information

Tactical and Strategic Open Questions

There are two distinct types of open questions:

Tactical Open Questions give you data

• What is your customer ref number?

• How many employees are there?

• What is your telephone number and address?

• What type of process do you use?

• How often do you tender?

Tactical open questions are excellent in gaining information that you might need at a later stage to prepare a clear and specific proposal.

For example;

Which airport do you want to fly from?

What dates for travel do you have in mind?

How many people will be travelling?

What level of budget are you looking to spend?

Strategic Open Questions tell you how the other party feels and reveals their buying motives.

• What is the reason?

• Why did you buy?

• What do you think?

• What would it mean to you if?

• How important is it to you that?

Asking strategic questions can be very powerful. This is where the real value is to be found. However strategic open questions can be felt intrusive and therefore requires an element of trust and empathy to be exhibited by the questioner. However, if one can master the skills of asking strategic open questions, one should be able to build trust and rapport with client’s enabling good value judgements to be made.

Building good rapport with the other party can only serve to strengthen your position when you make a proposal at a later stage. Be sincere and professional when asking any questions, but especially those that are strategic in nature. You are venturing into how people feel and that can be considered unwelcome in the business environment.

Build a database of open and closed questions (Tactical and Strategic) and regularly review them prior to any meeting with a client. This will serve to remind you ahead of the meeting a number of appropriate questions to ask. That way you can then build a proposal based on the things that are important to the client.

Here are a few example questions to get you started;

How have you been since we last met?

What do you do when you are not working?

How have things changed since your new marketing campaign?

What do you see as your competitors strengths?

What do you need to be better than your competitiors?

What would happen if………?

Why is that important to you?

What is your reasoning behind your statement?

How do you decide on which supplier to choose?

What is your decision making process?

What time scales are you working to?

What is your level of interest in our proposal?

In which areas are our competitors stronger than us?

Where do we need to improve to get your approval?

What deadlines do we need to be aware of?

I look at my database of questions frequently. This prompts me to think of the type and relevancy of questions I need to ask before I go into a meeting.  Choose the right questions and increase your chances of making a proposal that will win the business.

The Art of Listening


Communication Skills: Listening

Listening is a very under rated skill. Early in life we were taught to Listen and learn at school but still many of us in our fast paced life have not mastered this concept. Listening is essential if we are to demonstrate good communication skills. Listening is a vital component of communication: what is the message that our opposite person is trying to communicate.

In order to listen effectively we are obliged to concentrate on what the other person has to say. This is extremely difficult because we are also taught that we should have the right to express our own opinions and are often so focussed on our message that we totally miss the other persons point. We should also disconnect as much as possible our natural filters that inhibit our ability to listen and understand.

What are the causes of poor listening?

1.    Over talkative

A person who feels the need to talk will always be concentrating on what they need to say next and miss potentially valuable information.

2.    Self Interest/Interruptions

Many people simply are waiting for key words that trigger their response. There is something of interest here. Now is my chance to say my piece. At this point all listening has evaporated essentially ignoring the other persons content.

3.    Intolerance

Someone does not share the same values as you and therefore you switch off. Or worse you try and explain/impose your values on them. However it is vital that you tune into how these values have come to pass. Seek clarification with an open mind. Only then can you make a considered judgement. Avoid intolerance of others views.

4.    Prejudgement

Human beings generally prejudge most situations and people. This can be a disaster where listening is involved. Once you have prejudged a situation you put up barriers and filters to stop any information reaching you that you have already discounted. Worse still your prejudgement may actually be unwarranted and you have therefore missed an opportunity to build a rapport and empathy with the other party and learn something new.

5.    Disruptions/Noise

Meetings are often disrupted by noise, other conversations, and phones ringing. Climate (light, temperature, ergonomics) can also divert attention away from listening. Try to minimise disruptions to meetings so active listening can take place.

6.    Personal problems/stress

External distractions from personal life (fears, uncertainty, anxiety, financial problems etc) can disrupt your attention. In this situation you will need to double your concentration levels to ensure that the little voice inside us all does not compete for the voice that we should be listening to.

7.    Deficiencies in speech and expression

In some cases it is difficult to listen attentively when the other party is not expressing themselves clearly. They are using words or terminology that you are unfamiliar with. They do not speak in a clear or logical manner. Seek clarification. This alone will reinforce that you are listening and demonstrate your desire to understand the other party’s point of view

Paraphrasing takes place when someone repeats something written or spoken using different words, or in a simpler and shorter form that makes the original meaning clearer. A great way to demonstrate to the other party that you are listening effectively is to paraphrase what you have just heard.

So if I have understood you correctly you would like……………

Taking your comments into account you want me/us to…………….

Looking at it from your point of view you see it like………………….

Is that right?

Paraphrasing what the other party has said shows that you have listened and understood to the point that you can articulate this back to the other person. It also has the added advantage of being able to check your level of understanding and therefore minimising any potential misunderstandings later in the discussion.

Avoid misunderstandings by asking for repetition

If you are uncertain about something that has just been said it is perfectly acceptable to seek clarification by asking for a repetition.

Can you just run that by me again? I did not quite follow/understand it the first time.

Would it be possible for you to repeat that last segment so I can fully understand your point?

Always remember that communication is a two way process. Without listening there is no communication. Attempt to remove all your barriers and filters so that when you are listening you are getting the raw data for you to process.

Try to forget what it is that you came to say and spend more time listening. If what you have to say is important your brain will remind you at some stage in the dialogue and your chance to speak will come.

Remember to paraphrase to show interest in what the other person has to say. This should build trust and empathy and demonstrate that you have good listening and communication skills.

In a selling situation a good way of building rapport is to actively listen to what the other party has to say. Only when you have fully understood what the other party is saying can you look to build an offer that will match their communicated needs.