For 100 years kids have learned what leaders need to practice. When they approach a railroad crossing, the sign reminds them to STOP, LOOK, LISTEN. Successful leaders follow these rules. Here’s how:

1. STOP: Stop doing, starting, prodding, pushing, and driving. Instead, create space in your day and your brain. Space to allow inference and insight: the foundation of effectiveness.

2. LOOK: Get out of the office and the meeting room. Walk around and look at what your people, your suppliers and your customers are doing. Consider that for years Toyota has required every new engineer to stand in one spot for much of a day, watching a factory at work. Then he is asked what he saw. The patterns of what’s there and not there will inform your decisions and goals powerfully.

3. LISTEN: Learn to ask carefully pointed questions. What matters more is what you do next: ask the follow-up question that will get you the gold. The “gold” is insight, the elusive reality that essential for success. Tips for better questions:

  • Ask precisely focused and specific questions.
  • Listen closely, to learn what the OTHER person wants… right or wrong.
  • Invite new information by using question words like what, when, how… instead of why. (“Why” can be aggressive, and may shut down another person before they can give you the gold.)

Are you blasting through the crossing, or stopping to look and listen?