Real Leaders

Be the Smartest Voice in the Room: Ask These Two Questions

I have been doing a lot of training of men and women leaders on the science of using the strength of both genders to create new solutions to nasty business problems.


I use something I call Trans-Logical Thinking. It requires a ruthless determination to transcend the low-level trade-offs of hard logic. Hard logic is either/or thinking, and it’s simplistic. Overly simplistic. It comes from a black or white mindset. It assumes there is one right answer to every problem. It assumes that virtually every outcome is the result of one principle cause. It is overly moralistic urging gets you to brand your opinion as good and different opinions as bad.


Hard logic is the main thinking tool of hard power. The aggressive drive to control, to dominate and be right are prime motives of hard power. You see it everywhere. You see it in Executives’ meetings. You see it in politics.  

The irony of hard power logic is that it is weak. 

SMART logic is simply a much more powerful way to think. 

It relies on a broad spectrum of thinking tools that combine the strengths of intuition, practical thinking and analysis. Leaders who use SMART logic are comfortable with complexity. They recognize that virtually every difficult problem has multiple causes and that any action is likely to cause unintended consequences.


SMART logic begins with the recognition that we swim in paradox. 

You can love your children and be incredibly frustrated with them at the same time. You can love your job and hate what you have to do today at work. That’s just the nature of reality and the reality of nature. Light is both a wave and a particle.


The most successful leaders, the ones we really admire, come up with unexpected solutions by resolving paradox.  Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz turned coffee into a luxury. He made every drink customizable and combined it with fast service. He chooses to give part-time employees health insurance and pay for their college education. None of those ideas make sense to a hard logic thinker.  If he were pitching Starbucks to venture capitalists today they would laugh.


Steve Jobs made technology beautiful and easy to use when everybody else didn’t believe that an average person would ever want or use a computer. That’s why computers were ugly and complicated.


Walt Disney created a magic kingdom from carnival rides usually found in dusty county fairs. It didn’t make any sense that he would be so successful. His bankers abandoned him. It defied hard logic.


We admire Starbucks’, Apple’s and Disney’s unique solutions because they’re unexpected.  

These are leadership acts of creative courage. 

But what I observe is that in spite of its weakness, most leaders have embraced hard logic… the logic of either/or. They say “We can either make money or pay our front-line people well… but we can’t do both.”  (These leaders persistently ignore the examples of Costco, In-N-Out Burger and Zappos who pay well above their lagging competitors. Why? Because hard logic makes you dumb!)


Too often I find that when hard power leaders express an interest in elevating women into leadership they complain that it’s difficult to find a woman who “thinks like a man.” They also express doubts that women will give their work their exclusive attention. Yes, they frequently have a long list of reasons why women are unable to perform like men do.  

They seem unable to consider that the value of women in leadership is that they don’t think or work like men. 

It seems contrary to their hard logic that since most leaders are men they think they need to find women who act like men in order to make them leaders. That’s just plain stupid.


Let me make this real. 

I recently completed the leadership transformation project for Cricket Communications, the fifth largest wireless carrier in the U.S. As a no- contract carrier their primary customers were people in the lower-half of household income.  As they were looking for more customers many of the leaders who spent time on the front lines of the retail store network had the idea they could be successful by going down market. That’s right, go after poorer people. 

There was initial opposition. After all poor people make bad customers, right?  It’s pretty obvious… poor people don’t have money to spend on fancy phones or cell service. That’s simply logical.  It’s a perfect example of hard logic. And it was dead wrong.


It was wrong because there’s more to the story.  In the 1930s Congress passed a law giving subsidies to people receiving public assistance to help them get phone service. This idea was justified because of the overwhelming evidence that telephone communication increases people’s economic opportunities and upward mobility.

The law is still in effect and offers qualified low-income individuals $10 a month off their phone bill. The problem is there’s a lot of paperwork involved and qualifications vary from state to state. No other cell company was willing to invest the time, people and money to sort this complexity out and use Information Technology to make it efficient. The reason was simple, “Poor people make bad customers.”


The question that I coach people with creative courage to ask is… “What if the opposite was also true?” or “Under what conditions would the opposite be true?” 

For Cricket Communications it turned out that customers that received a subsidized discount were a lot more loyal and consistent than customers who didn’t. Once Cricket invested in making the whole sign-up process efficient and easy it became their fastest growing and most profitable business segment. The creative courage to take this risk came from spirited discussions of men and women leaders who were willing to suspend their simplistic prejudices and unravel the knots of opportunity.


The key to open the door to SMART logic is how you frame questions.

As soon as you ask the question “Under what conditions would the opposite be true?” you open brave peoples’ minds to see hidden opportunities were no one else has the guts to look.


For SMART logic to really create value leadership teams need diversity of thought, diversity of personality and diversity of experience.  They also need unity. Great leadership teams are united by the idea that the purpose of business is to create value.  Real value. Nontrivial value. Value that makes the quality of life of other human beings better.


What the world needs now are people who do not accept hard logic. We need people with creative courage and the emotional intelligence to persuade, influence and if necessary, hypnotize their opposers.


This is a requirement of great leadership. Stand up and lead from where you are. 

You can do that by asking courageous questions that open minds to SMART logic.

More like this

Most Recent Articles