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​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader (Part 1)

July 30, 2021
​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader (Part 1)

In this week’s episode, we begin a new series on “Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader.” In this two-part series, John Maxwell shares the questions he poses to himself to make sure he is continually growing and adding value to others. When we don’t ask ourselves good questions as leaders, we miss out on identifying potential blind spots in our leadership and opportunities to grow.

For the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow talk about how John’s questions have made them better leaders. They will also challenge you to think about the last time you invested in yourself, and to examine the questions to ask yourself in order to keep growing.

Our BONUS resource for this series is the “Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader Worksheet,” which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Hey, welcome back to the John Maxwell Leadership podcast. And I say, welcome back, some of you are joining us for the first time today, and I have to say this on behalf of John Maxwell, my co-host today, Traci Morrow, our producer, Jake, we are so glad that you have joined us. We love adding value to people who multiply value to people, and that's what we're going to attempt to do in the podcast today. Today, I'm joined with Traci Morrow and we're going to hear from John in just a minute on questions that John asked himself as a leader. Have you ever looked at someone that has arrived, someone that has accomplished great things and said, "I wonder if they're still growing." Well, I can assure you after 21 years, John Maxwell is still growing in his greatest growth tool, his questions. His greatest growth mechanism to make sure that he is continuing to challenge himself is questions that he asked himself as a leader.

So what we have done is we have broken this lesson up into two parts. Today's going to be the first part. John's going to cover four points, and you are going to hear questions that John religiously consistently asks each and every day. So grab your pen, grab your paper. In fact, if you would like to download a fill-in-the-blank worksheet, go to, there's a fill-in-the-blank worksheet there just for you. And now we are ready to learn from John as he asks himself questions. Here is John.

John Maxwell:  I have found that the better quality of leader a person is, the better quality of questions they ask. And there is a relationship between the kind of questions you ask and the kind of questions you receive, and the quality of the questions you ask and the quality of answers that you receive. In your notes, focused questions stimulate creative thinking. When our questions are focused, it unleashes in our own lives and stimulates in our own minds creative thinking. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights. Honest questions lead to solid convictions. The more honest that my questions are that I ask myself as a leader, the more solid my convictions become as leader. Sir. Francis Bacon said, "If a person will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts. But if he will be content to begin with doubts, he will end in certainties." Correct questions help us find ourselves and our mission.

I think that's the main reason why I'm doing this lesson. If as a leader, I can ask myself the correct questions, it will help me to find myself as a leader and it will help me to define what my mission is. Now, let me give you other thoughts about questions, such as you only get answers to the questions you ask. So if you know the right questions, you will ultimately gain the right answers. What I'm going to give you in this lesson today are 10 questions that I ask myself as a leader. These are questions that I've asked myself continually as a leader, and I think they will be a wonderful asset to you to begin to implement and begin to ask yourself these questions, such as number one, am I investing in myself? That's the first question I asked myself as a leader, because if I fail to invest in myself, I will be unable people to invest in others.

If you talk any business person, they'll talk to you about investment. And they'll talk to you about investing in different stocks and different companies and different types of business. And my first question to you is before you talk about investing in other organizations or in other people, are you investing in yourself? Why? Because you cannot lead people where you have not gone yourself. By the way, in your notes, this is a personal growth question. And again, the first question I ask people at conferences that I teach, are you investing in yourself? What are you doing to improve yourself? What are you doing to grow yourself? You see there are three types of people. Number one, the unlearned. These are people who have never learned. The second are the learned. These are people who have learned many things. And sometimes we think that number two is the highest, but there's one better than being just a person that has learned.

The third class is learners. These are the people that are constantly still learning. That's the class that I want to be in. The question is, are you investing in yourself in such a way that you could say you are still learning? Question number two that I ask as a leader, am I genuinely interested in others? This is a motive question. Asking myself, if I'm genuinely interested in others, speaks of my motives. JP Morgan said, "A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason, and the real reason." In this case for a leader, in your life and in my life, the real reason must become also a good reason. The difference between manipulation and motivation is the following. Manipulation means moving people for personal benefit, where motivation means moving people for mutual benefit. And as a leader, I always have to ask myself, what is the real reason for me leading others? Am I genuinely interested in others?

Questioning your motive is different than questioning your character. Motives are usually attached to specific situations and are often short in duration. Character, however, is connected to the heart and is with you in all situations. Therefore, you can have a temporarily flawed motive and still have solid character. But if the character is solid, raw motives will soon be corrected. I have discovered that mature leaders place what is best for others above themselves. That's a fact. Leaders see before others see, and leaders see more than others see. Now, since leaders see more than others see and they see before others see, then leaders are the ones who figure it out first. And if they are not pure in their motives, they can take advantage of others. Three questions everybody ask of a leader. When people look at you as a leader, look at me as leader, here are the questions they ask. "Can you help me? If I'm going to follow you, do you have the ability as a leader to help me?"

Question number two, "Do you care about me? See, if you can help me, but don't care about me, you really won't help me." And thirdly, "Can I trust you? Can I trust you?" So we've discussed and looked at briefly two questions I ask myself as a leader. The first question, am I willing to invest in myself? Which is a personal growth question. The second one, Am I genuinely interested in others? Which really is a motive question. The third question is, am I doing what I love and loving what I do? This is a passion question. This question speaks of my passion. Am I doing what I love, and am I loving what I do? Am I passionate about what I'm involved in? You are nothing unless it comes from your heart. Passion, caring, really looking to create excellence. If you perform functions only and go to work only to do processes, then you have effectively retired. And it scares me. Most people I see by age 28 are retired.

If you go to work only to fulfill the processes, then you are a machine. You have to bring passion, commitment, and caring. Then you are a human being. Passion gives you energy. When you're passionate about something, you have great energy to produce. Passion allows you to put everything you've got into everything you do. And I want you to note one thing before we go into question number four. Integrity will slowly be lost if you continually do things that you dislike. Why? You'll begin to take shortcuts. You'll begin to fake it till you make it. So question number three, am I doing what I love? And am I loving what I do? That's a passion question. Question number four, am I investing my time with the right people? This is a great question for a leader. Am I investing my time with the right people? This is a relationship question.

In winning with people, my thesis is that most people can trace their successes and failures to relationships in their lives. So if I'm asking myself, am I investing my time with the right people? I need to have a picture of the right people. What does the right people look like? Number one, a mutual attraction. The right people are the people that there is a mutual attraction that you have to them and they have to you. C.S. Lewis said it best. He said, "Friendship is born at the moment that one person says to another, "What? You too. I thought that I was the only one."" Mutual attraction. Number two, a passion for growth. The right people you want around you are the people that have a passion for growth like you. Henry Ford said your best friend is the one who brings out the best within you.

And number three, when I'm trying to get a picture of the right people around me, I not only want to see a mutual attraction and a passion for growth, but number three, a person's potential. When I bring somebody around me, I have to ask myself the question, what is their potential? Which brings me to the capacity questions. When I'm trying to figure out a person's capacity or potential, I asked myself, can they? And will they?

Mark Cole:       Well, Traci, can they? Will they? What a great way to just stop that cliff hanger and as I look at you today, joining me via Zoom into the studio here in Atlanta, I see a leader that can and will. And we'll go, Traci, to some of the things that you and I want to talk about today, but really when John says "Can they?" He's talking about ability, competence, and when he's talking about, "Will they?" He's talking about attitude. This, "Can do. I will get it done," attitude. And I admire you so much. I'm so glad to have you back in studio with me today. Even if it's Zoom, being able to break down what John's just shared and show how we apply it here in the John Maxwell Enterprise. Welcome.

Traci Morrow:  Thank you. I'm so honored to be back as always and I have such a great respect for you, Mark and I'm excited to dive into this lesson. John, before he gets to the questions that he asks, he talks about the value of questions. And when I listened to this, whether I'm just listening through my car or I'm sitting here with you, I always am holding myself up to the lesson. I know we all do that. And I was just thinking of my journey, and I'm sure you probably do the same, of becoming a question asker. Both of other people, but also of yourself. And I was thinking back, I don't know about you, but when I was in school, they used to send us to leader.

You'd run for student government and then they'd send you to leadership camp and they train you how to lead your peers and I really feel like we almost need to go back and redo because I had to undo what I learned about leadership, because I thought that it was more about having the right answers and beginning with certainties rather than asking questions. And learning that I didn't have to have all the answers that it was okay to ask questions and that I wasn't going to lose the respect of my peers or eventually the people that I led. I'm curious, were you always a good question asker? Or how did you...?

Mark Cole:       No, I'm so glad, and Traci many times we just put our heads together where we want to go. This time, we did it, and I'm also very glad that this is impromptu, the question that you asked, because one of the greatest things that I have had a challenge to learn from John, and those of you that are regular podcast listeners you know some of this. One was how to lead people when I had to decide whether I wanted to lead them or love them. And there is a time when a leader has to lead through love and there's a time that we have to love and not lead. And I was really struggling with that as a relational leader and more about that later and more in previous podcasts. For those of you that are just joining us, go back and listen to past episodes. I feel like they will help you. But Traci, the second thing that I have struggled the most is learning how to slow down and ask questions.

A good friend of ours, David Hoyt, he has this statement that I love to say. It just cracks me up. "God loves you and I have a wonderful plan for your life." When I'm looking at you, Traci, God loves you, but I have a real plan that I'm wanting to accomplish with you right now. Well, the reason I love that statement that David says and I use it a lot is because, man, I always feel like I have an answer. And I'll be honest with you. I'm really impressed with my answers 99% of the time. And the 1% is just so I can sound humble because I really am pretty impressed with the answers that I have. So to slow down and ask questions for something that I already know the best way and the best answer to is really cumbersome for me.

Now I am overplaying because I really do believe in the value of asking questions, but I really am overplaying a true struggle that I have and many leaders have. And that is why would I slow down and ask a question if I, the leader am supposed to already know the answer?" We put that pressure on ourself. Some of us like me feel like it's not pressure. It's actually privilege to be the one that has the answer in the room and a responsibility I'm supposed to have the answer in the room. So then what's this whole thing John's telling us in this lesson, I'm supposed to slow down and ask questions of myself and even of others in the room? And I'm glad we're doing this, but I will tell you this. As brilliant as John Maxwell is, and I believe that he is, as wonderful as his leadership and decisiveness is, he really does have the discipline that he describing in this lesson. You and I have been around John enough to know, he really asks the questions and to this day, Traci, I still struggle with slowing down and asking questions.

Traci Morrow:  I'm so glad that you were honest and said that because deep down every time I hear this, it's convicting because I think to myself, "Oh, I'm trying, my brain works the same way of..." Especially if you're going to ask questions of yourself as a leader, then you're going to have come up with some answers on your own in that alone time while you're asking those questions. So when a situation presents itself, you're more apt to say, "Oh, this is what I think about that." Rather than diving down a little bit and letting it add to what I've already figured out on my own and a lot of time, it's an insight that I didn't see. While it's important to ask questions of ourselves, the more we teach other people to do the same and that John is teaching other people to do the same, and then we come together and collaborate. So I'm excited to dive in.

Mark Cole:       Let me say one more thing on this, Traci-

Traci Morrow:  Okay. Great.

Mark Cole:       ... because since you've already invited me to be vulnerable and I was, and you celebrated it, let me just go another step of vulnerability.

Traci Morrow:  Overachiever.

Mark Cole:       Yes. John is on a quest to get me to slow down because I'm trying to empower the leaders around me, especially in this season of my leadership. And he says, "You will never empower with directives. You will only empower with questions because the answer has to come from within if you're going to truly empower." So it's a brilliant lesson, and by the way, I just gave you the price of listening. I just gave you the value for listening to the price you're paying to listen, because that's exactly right. You cannot empower if you don't ask questions of those you're trying to empower and let them find the answer from within. Now, John's really working with me on this because I'm not great. What I found in my first stage of learning to ask questions is it was all for show. I was asking questions, but I'll be honest with you. I was not looking for answers.

I was asking questions. I already knew the answers. I was asking questions because John told me I needed to ask questions. Hey, at least it was a start, podcast listeners. We've got to start somewhere and for some of you that are like me and maybe a little bit like Traci is describing herself, you at least need to as a first step, slow down and ask yourself a question before you try to give the answer. And I know for some of you, it's going to be show and it's going to be because Mark Cole or John Maxwell or Traci Morrow said so, but I'll still celebrate that because it's the first step of really becoming truly genuine and wanting to know the answers from the questions you ask.

Traci Morrow:  Ah, thank you for that challenge and thank you for reminding me that we're all just a work in progress. So if Mark Cole is asking questions, but in his mind thinking he already knows the answers, that gives me the freedom to realize, "Okay, that's a first step for me too." So now that we've scout our mind right about asking questions, the first one that he talked about that he asks himself is am I investing in myself? That it was a personal growth question.

And I feel like I was trying to think as he was speaking, when was the first time that I outside of school, because I think that most people think you educate yourself for those four or eight years in school and grad school now, so many kids are coming out of college and going straight into grad school, but beyond that, I don't know how many people think about, "I need to continue my education and continue to grow." I was trying to think when the first time I put money down. Can you remember the first time you put money down to grow yourself, to invest in yourself, outside of a school setting?

Mark Cole:       I remember being recommended. So this is the first I can remember and this is not just the party line, "Make John proud," moment, but I can remember when someone at 17 suggested that I read a John Maxwell book called Developing the Leader Within You, and that it would make sense to some of these natural talents that was being celebrated by those around me. And I went out with some money that I had just gotten from my birthday and I bought my first John Maxwell book at 17 and read Developing the Leader Within You. So I would consider that to be the first moment that I remember investing in myself. I took my birthday money, I went out and bought a book because somebody told me that it would make sense of some of the leadership characteristics or abilities that I had that I wanted to grow. So that would be my first.

Traci Morrow:  So it was a book. Were you a reader before that?

Mark Cole:       I did. I loved to read. I've never shared this on a podcast before. I don't sleep much. You all do know that. My mom is 92 at the taping of this podcast and she doesn't sleep much either. So it's genetic. Don't try to compare it and don't try to condemn me either. I just don't sleep much. And that was true in my teenage years too. So back to your question of did I read much? To get myself sleepy, I would read a half of a fiction book, a Westerner, a Louis L'Amour or a Max Lucado, not Max Lucado, Max Brand. A Louis L'Amour or a Max Brand Western book, I'd read a half of a Western book every night till I finally got sleepy and would slip off to sleep at about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.

So I read a lot, it was all fiction, but do you know that John Maxwell book that I read... And I've even shared this before, Traci, that's funny. That John Maxwell book that I read at 17, I put down fiction books from that point until I was 30 and then one time a year, I read a fiction book and it's a John Grisham book. I love John Grisham's writings. I read one fiction book a year. Everything else that I read is nonfiction, but it stopped at 17 when I paid money for a John Maxwell book and then I just started reading all books that would make me better kind of thing.

Traci Morrow:  I love knowing that about young Mark. And as somebody who cares about health and wellness and being healthy in all areas, can I just say to our listeners, don't make Mark sleep habits your model, please. The human body is designed to heal and rest and we need sleep, but we all have to be ourselves and how God wired us. So Mark is wired uniquely in many ways, but especially in sleep, but I borrowed cassette tapes and books. I was really trying to think we were on such a tight budget in those days, but like you, what's funny... I have to tell you a funny story. When we were on vacation one time, we were sitting around the pool and I looked up from my Maxwell book and the women who were in the area that Casey, my husband and I were in, were all reading romance novels, and I said to my husband, "What is wrong with me? That I'm the only woman reading a personal development book."

And without looking up from his John Grisham book, he put his hand on my leg and said, "That just means I'm doing my job that I don't have to read a romance novel." No credit to John that my brain is lit up reading his stuff.

Mark Cole:       That's right. Casey took all the credit.

Traci Morrow:  [crosstalk 00:25:28]. I don't need a romance book. That's right. That's so funny. So he talked about the unlearned, the learned and the learners. And I love that because in the same vein of talking about thinking that we need to begin with certainty, I would say most... I used to think it was being the learned as a leader. And then when your brain is expanded to understand that just being a lifelong learner, we don't have to have all the answers. We're in progress and we can process and we can still be considered a leader and we still are a leader when we're in process. I think of conversations I've had with you about that. And you've helped me to come to terms with that of... I think I've even asked a few times, "Am I even a leader?

Mark Cole:       Yeah.

Traci Morrow:  I'm sure some of our podcast listeners are thinking the same things sometimes.

Mark Cole:       Yeah. So number one, you are a leader. You don't read romance novels, you read leadership books. So let's just start there. You are a leader, Traci, but let me say this. We're right in the middle of the John Maxwell company. Perhaps some of you podcast listeners, you've been involved in our growth series that I've been doing on Facebook live, Instagram, and in our first segment a few weeks ago, one of the questions was asked me, "How did you get from such a fixed mind to an adaptable mind to grow?" It was a great question. I'm trying to remember now who asked the question. It was a great question. In that answer, I went into, Traci, what you know around here in John's world, our greatest desirable attribute of a potential teammate that we want to be a leader because we believe every one of our team members are leaders.

The greatest single attribute is not their character. We hope they have good character. It's not even their competence. We hope they can do their job. It is absolutely without question, are they coachable? Are they teachable? Do they have an appetite to learn? Do they have an appetite to grow? Because if you've been around John Maxwell and some of you have been following John and been mentored by John for a long time, here's what you can be certain of. One day after he's written the book and it hits the shelves, he's frustrated with the book because he's already grown beyond what the words on the paper says. Because he is perpetual, he is constantly stretching for growth. So I do believe learners this last third type that John talks about, the unlearned, the learned, and the learners active, that is the attribute that we all want to be going after when we're asking ourself, are we investing in ourselves? Hey, can I ask you a question on this question? Not to you, Traci, but to the podcast listeners.

When is the last time you invested in yourself? Maybe you're like Traci and I, you may or may not can remember the first time, but can you remember the last time? I mean, when is the last time you've literally not borrowed from somebody? You actually invested in yourself and paid somebody to make you better? And I'm just struck by this question in this moment to all you podcast listeners, we give you opportunities to buy books, digital products. There are thousands of opportunities out there. I'm not trying to sell anything here, I'm just trying to ask you a very invasive question. When was the last time you invested in yourself? You paid something to make yourself better? There's the question, Traci, there's the pause. Let's go to the next point.

Traci Morrow:  But I liked that pause because we need to pause and think. I tell people that all the time. Investing in myself, I started out borrowing cassette tapes. And then as I started to grow, it impacted my life because I was applying it. And that's what I love when you said John says it doesn't stop him from writing. I love that he's dissatisfied with his book as soon as he's done writing it and editing it and all that, but it doesn't hold him back from like, "Oh, I can't release this book because I know in two weeks, I'm not going to like this book." He still keeps moving forward. Okay. So he hit on four points and we have spent a long time on this first one. And I want to jump down. He talked about, am I genuinely interested in others? Being a motive question, but I wanted to jump down to am I doing what I love? And I've got a question for you. Was there anything that you wanted to hit on too, before we go [crosstalk 00:29:54]?

Mark Cole:       No, I love jumping down there. I love that.

Traci Morrow:  Okay, great. So what I'm finding is, and I'm going to apply it in two ways before I asked my question. Am I doing what I love and loving what I do? It's a passion question. So let me just first... My first example is in parenting. I have a teenage son and he is really, really good at soccer. He's gifted at soccer. He's a great player. He is pretty good at basketball. Okay? He practices both, he plays on both teams, but he's passionate about basketball, the sport he at this point in time he's not as naturally gifted in. I think sometimes as leaders, I've had that on my team too, people who are incredible in an area that they aren't really passionate about. So what do you do for yourself or for your team or in your family when you're leading someone who is naturally gifted at something, but they're not passionate? It rolls into is that the right people in the right position? But what do you do when someone is great at something, but they are passionate about it?

Mark Cole:       Well, so let me... I love this question and I love the timing of this question. I told you and Jake right before, Ryder, my grandson, he has just put on pads for the first time yesterday and practiced football. And I'm just waiting for that one hit that lets him know he is not passionate about football and it may or may not be coming, but I'm expecting it to come. Well, that's apropos to your question because last night, one of our other co-hosts of the John Maxwell leadership podcast is Chris Goede And his birthday is today, the day that we're recording. Don't wish him a birthday when you hear this, because it will be too late, but Stephanie, my wife and I were having dinner with he and his wife last night. We were talking about Ryder going into football because their son and their daughter plays at D1 schools playing sports.

So Reiland, their son is tied in for the University of Georgia, Addie, their daughter is a starter as a freshman on the volleyball team at Kennesaw State. Very coveted scholarships that these kids have gotten. They were telling me the story of Reiland again, a tied-in for the University of Georgia and how two times in his life, he lost his passion for football. Now he's now playing. He's a big boy. He was built for a tied-in at the University of Georgia. But they both times would not let him quit what he had already committed, but promised him that he could stop after he finished his commitment if he wanted to. One time he did set out for a year, realized that didn't, the second time, by the time he put off the pads for about three or four or five months, he was ready to put them back on.

But both times they allow the young person, the child to live and lean into their passions, the child's passions, not the parents' passions. And isn't it true you would love to go see your son play soccer more than you'd love to go see him play basketball? So why? You got to be careful. Are you letting him pursue his passion? Most of us parents or leaders are trying to make people pursue our passion for them. And I really believe what I learned from the Goedes last night with their D1 college athletes that they allowed them to follow their passions so that they would enjoy the journey. And isn't that true so many times as leaders, our parents, parent leaders, as leaders of teams, we make people lose the joy of the journey because we think our passion should be their passion?

Traci Morrow:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, that's so good. That's so good. Taking notes. I think it is you do go in and out of passion points, but if it is something that is... It wraps up with what John ended on. Can they, and will they? Just because you can do something and have the ability to do something doesn't mean you have the passion and the attitude to stick with it and continue on. These are some great ones to chew on. I'm excited for... We only hit through four this time. So we're supposed to hit through another six next week, but this gives us plenty to chew on and ask some questions. I know I'm going to already sit down and ask some questions of myself.

Mark Cole:       Well, and thank you, Traci and thanks for today. In each of these podcasts, our goal is to bring content from John. Many times he's in the studio with me, we're on the road together recording. Oftentimes like today, we take something that he recorded recently, and then we just distill it down to personal team and corporate application. Our goal is to leave you something each and every week that makes you feel like you received value, and that will challenge you to go apply it and spread that value onto those in your circle of influence. We hope that we've done that today. As Traci just said, next week, come back. John's got six more questions that he asked himself as a leader. It's part two. Until then, make sure you go visit, download the fill in the blank worksheet.

Also, it does us really good when you give us a comment. We hope that whatever podcast player that you're listening to, you'll give us a five-star rating or at least tell us how we can get a five-star rating from your perspective, because that is the way that we know whether we're hitting the mark and adding value to you. So go ask yourself some questions. The one question I challenge you with, when is the last time you have invested in yourself? Until next week, we hope you not only ask questions, but that you listen, you learn, and then you lead.

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