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Four “Dangerous” Questions to Show your Business Acumen

Leadership is in the questions we ask as we decide things.

As a CPT, I’m focused on human performance in the workplace. I’ve also chosen to focus my business on the ‘space between’ leadership competency and business results. These two things sometimes end up with leaders learning to ask “Dangerous Questions.”

They’re not dangerous in the traditional sense. However, they are dangerous in the sense “Hey, why are you asking?” That means your business acumen is showing!

Oftentimes we make an ongoing list in my seminars of the “dangerous questions” the learners now feel confident and competent to ask back on the job. They list these things as the most relevant or insightful applications of their newfound business acumen. They ask. They wait. And others find the answers. Decisions improve.

That’s the stuff of leadership performance. Decision making.

I’ve distilled the many “dangerous questions” to these four, which seem to come up often in my workshops, simulations, and seminars. They are:

Learn: What can I do to improve our numbers?

We learn a lot in my programs. We learn the critical few numbers, the score sheets, and the key indicators that management uses to judge performance. Leaders need to learn the numbers so they can figure out how they affect them. As a result, they take steps to help.

Plan: If I invest resources, when will I earn them back?

Much is made on Return on Investment. But what about WHEN you get the money back? Do those dollars bring any additional dollars with them? It’s about asset utilization and speed of conversion: from cash back to cash again.

Further, leaders can then determine if that is soon enough and if the amount of payback is enough. Sometimes it isn’t, so things need to be done to improve results or money should be invested elsewhere.

Act: How can I help us get paid faster?

Cash, cash flow, and working capital all relate to the same short-term challenge. How can we collect cash faster than it is spent? In other words, can we do things to get paid as quickly as possible? That’s up to everyone all along the value chain. Differentiating in the marketplace, selling value to targeted customers, delivering on promises to customers, delivery with excellence, continuous improvement and learning, and more contribute to our getting paid as quickly as possible.

Assess: To what am I comparing?

Financial information is meaningless unless we compare it to something. It's the comparison that makes all the difference. Sure, that's expensive, but compared to what? Yes, that's an important thing, but what else is important?

Oftentimes, management will compare period to period and reflect the changes in percentages. They may then compare those percentages to what they expected in the first place. It's important for us to know what periods are being compared, what figures are in the percentages, and if the comparison is valid. Perhaps there are factors that make such comparisons unhelpful. Business acumen allows you to know the difference.

Strive to be a "little bit dangerous" in your role as a leader. You'll do your job better and distinguish yourself as a leader with business acumen. You'll raise your profile and accelerate your success.

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