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Tips From The Top: One On One With Mark Victor Hansen

I recently spoke to Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?  

Mark: Most people don’t know that I was in remedial reading from first grade until sixth grade. My parents were Danish Immigrants, so English was their second language. My dad owned a Danish Bakery in our blue-collar town of Waukegan, Illinois. Their focus was on making a living and they didn’t have much time for reading, so our home had few books, all of which led to my reading struggle as a youngster.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?   

Mark: The qualities that define an effective leader are someone who has the humility to be curious and teachable. As children we all start off as uncorrupted askers; wildly curious – asking who, what, when, where, why, and how, and always asking for more. That ability to question the world and everything in it causes the fastest growth and evolution in a human being possible. Then, depending on how we were parented, what happened in our school years, our job experience, and basic life rejection – that unfettered ability to ask often gets crushed out of us. We find ourselves standing there as adults, terrified to ask anything of anyone, and ashamed that we don’t have all the answers. This is one of the biggest deterrents to great leadership. To take your leadership to the next level you have to decide to become a Master Asker. You have to immerse yourself in the art and science of asking because there is no mechanism that has the ability to reveal what is hidden from you, like asking. You must be willing to embrace that childlike wonder once again, which will open you up to massively more good ideas and opportunities.       

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

Mark: 1. Everyone, whether an executive, civic leader or fundraiser for a philanthropic group, needs to learn to wake up their inner entrepreneur through asking the right questions. Asking inspires one to be able to ask to fulfill their own potential and that of their organization or operation. Dr. Mohmmed Yunis a Nobel Prize Recipient who saw the deprivation of poverty in Chittagong, Bangladesh, asked himself “What can I personally do to change this? Starting with $25 out of his own pocket he launched micro-finance and micro-credit. From that small beginning, he has helped over 100,000,000 women out of poverty by saying: “Everyone is an entrepreneur with inner abilities and leadership to serve greatly.”  Each person has to ask and answer the hardest question of all: What do I really want? What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What do I want to have? For myself, my company/organization. 2. Great business isn’t done through selling. Great business is done through relationship building. Don’t go in and try to sell the client something.  Ask what they need—then fill the need. 3. You must have a peer master-mind alliance or a dream team working in cooperative harmony to accomplish any dream that you deeply desire, visualize, and ultimately realize.

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Mark: The studies we looked at for our book, ASK! The Bridge to Your Dreams to Your Destiny, revealed that people who ask more questions are perceived to be more likable in business relationships. This is a critical skill to encourage, utilize, and practice in leading, building, and managing teams because the studies also reveal that most people do not realize that asking questions increases the degree to which someone ends up liking them. Teams work better together if they like each other. Asking good questions will spur learning and exchange of ideas, fuel innovation, improve performance, and build rapport among team members.  This deeper type of discussion that is achieved through asking can dramatically mitigate business risks by uncovering unforeseen hazards and pitfalls. Formulating the right questions at the right time in the right way gives leaders the perfect tool to challenge their teams to their next level of excellence.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Mark: In 1974, I was a young speaker with new ideas, the founder of the National Speakers Association, Cavett Robert told me my ideas were valuable and needed to be published between the covers of a book and to make sure that I did so, as soon as possible. That advice brought me to fulfill one of my biggest goals.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should do to pay it forward?

Mark: There are four T’s to pay it forward by giving. Even though many people feel like they don’t have significant money to share, there are other ways to give. Your thinking – ideas/strategies/concepts/dreams/full imagination towards your destiny. Thinking starts the process of paying it forward. It is, first of all, an individual’s thoughtful decision to serve and to serve greatly.  Once one’s mind is totally engaged, the other possibilities are looming. Then they can contribute the other three T’s: your time, your talent and your treasures.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you as a leader?

Mark: Our family loves to spend time in nature all over the world. We believe that there is a healing life force found in nature that brings us closer to source energy. There is a measurable living energy that emanates from trees, plants, and all living things. As we immerse ourselves in nature, taking in her beauty and exquisite design we are continually fueled with better ideas, more awareness of truth, and a profound sense of peace that allows us to show up for life with our most clear state of mind. Nature fosters that state of wonder which is the perfect state to seek and find your most profound answers.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Mark: To become the ultimate expression of ourselves, for which we were made, each person has to ask and answer the hardest questions of all: What do I really want? What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What do I want to have? What do I want to be, do and have for myself, my company/organization? How much am I willing to commit to achieving my best?

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