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Unleashed E72: Jeff Wetzler – Tapping into the Wisdom of Others

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Are you still curious? As we move through life, we build confidence—through education or affirmation—that what we know is enough. We stop asking questions, and start giving answers.  

But what if we are missing something?  

In this episode, we’re joined by Jeff Wetzler, co-founder of Transcend, an organization that is helping to reshape the way we teach with learner-centered education, and author of Ask. Jeff explains how a little humility and curiosity can, as the book puts it, tap into the hidden wisdom of people around you.

Actions You Can Take Right Now

  1. Recognize collective intelligence: The people around you—in your organization, family, or friend group—all have wisdom that you don’t. Start recognizing that the collective intelligence is stronger than any individual.  

  2. Be curious: Society has built a notion that leaders are supposed to have all the answers and drive the organization forward. We’ve placed more value on certainty than curiosity. Start adding a question mark to the things you really think you know.  

  3. Use the ASK approach: Choose curiosity, make it safe, pose quality questions, listen, learn, reflect, and reconnect.    
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View or listen to this and other past episodes on the Unleashed Podcast Library

Episode Highlights and Excerpts

  • As we get older, we start constructing models of the world to stay sane. It helps us understand what to expect in each situation. But then we forget it’s a model and stop questioning and refining.  

  • In school, we’re taught that it’s more important to get it right and have the answer than to ask questions.  

  • We’ve built this notion that a leader is supposed to have all the answers and drive the organization forward instead of being curious and asking questions.  
    • Most leaders now place value on certainty instead of curiosity.  
  • If we knew what was in everyone’s head, we’d make better decisions. More often than not, they don’t tell us so we miss out on opportunities.  

  • There is a collective, untapped intelligence all around us. 

  • Before you do anything else, stop and reflect on why people aren’t sharing.  

    • You get a lot further, faster, if you understand where the problem is. 

    • Ask, “Why wouldn’t you have just told me?” No, really. What are the barriers? 
  • If people care about us, they don’t want to negatively impact us. But if we have power over them, they don’t want us to negatively impact them.  

  • Reasons why people don’t share: 
    • Don’t want to hurt us 

    • Don’t have time (or energy) 
  • Ask, “What would make it hard for you to share this? 

  • We feel the same threat from physical danger and judgment. It makes people pull back.
  • We’re really bad at interpreting what people are thinking. Many of us think we’re better at it than we are.

  • Strategies that are often suggested but don’t really work: 
    • Read their body language 

    • Put yourself in their shoes 
  • The only way to know is to ask—but we’re not trained to do it.  

  • Five practices of the ASK approach: 
    • Choose curiosity: Needs to be authentic. That energy will generate a desire to share in the other person. This is a choice, not a trait.  
      • Curiosity questions: 
        • What do they see that I don’t? 

        • What experiences have they had? 

        • How do they look at the world?

        • How do they see me engage? 

        • What’s the impact I’m having on them? 

      • Curiosity killers: 
        • We get emotionally hijacked. Shift this to a cue to be curious instead, like putting an elastic on your wrist to remember to do the dishes. “When you’re furious, get curious.” 

        • Time pressure. Moves our brain to the “get it done” mode, instead of “I wonder if” mode.  
        • Pressures for conformity. Surround yourself with different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas. “What voices are missing around this table?” 
  • Make it safe: If you don’t feel comfortable telling me the truth, it doesn’t matter how curious I am.  
    • Flattening the hierarchy means getting on their terms, their turf. Stopping asking for truth from the other side of a CEO desk.  

    • People are often guessing at the leader’s agenda. Make it clear from the start.  
  • Pose quality questions: Questions that enable us to learn something and allow someone to answer it however they choose. Most of us have a pretty narrow repertoire.  
    • Quality questions

      • Request reactions: What’s your reaction to what I just said? How does that strike you? How did that land?  

      • Invite ideas: Here’s my dilemma, how would you handle it?  
  • Listen and learn: There’s a big difference between how most of us listen and actually hearing what people are saying.  
    • Content: What are they saying? 

    • Emotions: What are the feelings they are displaying?  

    • Actions: What are they doing? Are they pushing back, asking for help, repeating themselves?  
  • Reflect and reconnect: Reflection is what lets us get the meaning out of a conversation. Sift through everything you heard, and decide on the small number of important things. 
    • Reflective turns: 

      • How did what I heard affect or shift the story I’m telling about the situation? 

      • What steps am I going to take? 

      • Is there anything I heard that may have a deeper meaning? Does it push on a bias or worldview? 

      • Reconnecting is closing the loop. Go back and explain what you took from it, and ask if you got it right. It shows the other person how much you value their input.  
  • Three categories of addressing feedback: 
    • On the way: “We’re working on it, thank you for the suggestion.” 
    • On the radar: “We aren’t doing it right now, but it’s definitely something we want to do in the future.” 

    • Out of our hands: “There’s something stopping us from doing it, here’s why.” 
  • Realize you don’t know what you don’t know (and try to move toward conscious incompetence).  

  • Start finding the situations where you feel righteous or certain. Insert a question mark. What could I be getting wrong? What would others think about this solution? 

Take Your Business to the Next Level

At Results we care about your success, we understand how overwhelming it can feel to run a business, and we’re here to help. Reach out to Nicole through our contact form for ways to unleash the potential of your business. 

Visit the Unleashed Podcast Library where you’ll find exclusive conversations with world-class thought leaders, authors, and leadership experts. 

Each episode of Unleashed is hosted by Results’ CEO Jeff Tetz who spends most of his day exploring what makes high performers tick and helping build a community of leaders who want to learn and grow together. Follow Jeff (Twitter; LinkedIn; Instagram) for more great leadership insights.

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Jeff Wetzler

Jeff Wetzler

Jeff Wetzler has been on a quarter-century quest to transform learning opportunities. Blending a unique set of leadership experiences in the fields of business and education, he’s pursued this quest as a management consultant to the world’s top corporations, as a learning facilitator for leaders around the world, as Chief Learning Officer at Teach For America, and most recently, as co-CEO of Transcend, a nationally recognized innovation organization.  

Jeff earned a Doctorate in Adult Learning and Leadership from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Brown University. He is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and is an Edmund Hillary Fellow. He lives in New York with his wife, two children, and their puppy. 

You can learn more at Jeff Wetzler website.