SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Last week, we asked: How comfortable are you asking questions you don’t know the answers to?

  • Very — I have no problem asking questions about any topic: 84.4%
  • Somewhat — I don’t do it very often: 13.42%
  • Not very — I tend to only ask questions I know the answer to: 1.34%
  • Not at all — I avoid asking questions as much as possible: .84%

Questions lead to insight. Early in our careers, we’re trained to always have the answer. As we assume larger leadership roles, it is imperative that we lead the thinking rather than leading the work. Doing so effectively requires you to ask the questions you don’t know the answers to. In so doing, you can take the team beyond their current understanding of the world and lead them to explore new ideas, new opportunities, and new risks. (read more…)

This post is sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Michael R. Dicks is the director of veterinary economics at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and has, for the last three decades, advised groups around the world from the USDA to foreign governments on food and farm policy. Dr. Dicks sat down with us to discuss how the economics of the veterinary industry are changing and what the future holds.

Question: What is the role of economics in veterinary medicine?

Answer: The role of an economist is to define the problem, figure out strategies to address the problem and share potential consequences of those approaches. I want to give people information to help them make decisions; it’s not my role or the role of economics to make those decisions. In the veterinary field, the problem is excess capacity. Sources of this problem include the economy, prices, the increasing rate of new veterinary students and uneven distribution. (read more…)

More than 50,000 books are published per year on leadership — how to be an effective leader, how to grow into being a leader if you’re not one, what qualities constitute a good leader. And it’s not just books — there are websites, magazines, blogs, training seminars, not to mention graduate degrees from major universities.

The market for leadership development seems unlimited. Why? Because nearly everyone sees him or herself as a leader, or at least a potential one. Leadership seems to be the holy grail for which all business people should be striving. But what if there is another side to this coin? What if leadership is not always where your focus should be?

Here’s the nugget: You can’t be a leader unless you have willing followers. So you must follow first. You must learn to be a good follower. You need to see life from the trenches, understand the mindset of those you may one day lead. (read more…)

Your company has a shadow organization, whether you realize it or not.

That doesn’t mean that your company is running a spy collective worthy of the CIA. It means that your business has an unofficial set of relationships that influences how things are done in your organization.

Navigating these shadow organizations can be the difference between surviving and succeeding in the workplace. Here’s how you can find your way through:

1. Reframe “office politics.” Workplace surveys show that the majority of employees reluctantly engage in office politics, and nearly half of them believe it detracts from productivity. So how can you boost your career without engaging in dog-eat-dog politics? Start by reorienting your assumptions about what the term “office politics” means.

  • Replace the word “politics” with “awareness.”
  • Recognize that organizational awareness is all about communication and relationships.
  • Commit to using organizational awareness in a way that benefits everyone, not just you.
  • (read more…)

Todd VanderVen is President of BSI Group America Inc. Todd joined BSI in 2008 from SGS where he was Senior Vice President responsible for global strategy and development for all SGS divisions. Prior to this he held several senior positions at Eastman Kodak including COO for Kodak’s Healthcare business outside the U.S. and Chief Marketing Officer for their Healthcare Division.

In this blog post sponsored by BSI, Todd talks about the changing aerospace industry and how he plans to navigate the new trends.

Question: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the aerospace industry this year? Over the next 10 years?

Answer: The aerospace industry will continue to be challenged to manage many aspects of risk. Examples of these risk areas include information security, sustainability, counterfeiting, business continuity, and conflict minerals. Instituting proper oversight and robust risk controls enterprise-wide will become more and more necessary to be competitive. (read more…)