2 Fundamental Questions All Great Leaders Ask

John NeufeldLeadership0 Comments

Colorful paper with back question marks

One of the hallmarks of great leadership is asking good questions. Questions can help clarify, crystallize, and ultimately bring about change. Often the questions we ask are external in that they refer to situations or other people. But what about the questions we need to ask ourselves?

Having served and presently serving with great leaders, I have observed that great leaders continuously ask themselves two fundamental questions:

  • Am I a leader worth following?
  • Am I building teams built to last?

If we’re honest, we will acknowledge that the toughest person to lead is ourself. For this reason, the first person we must examine is ourself. If we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror and ask these questions, we will never understand where our challenges lie. If you can’t see the challenges, you can’t lead yourself effectively. Thomas J. Watson, former chairman of IBM, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves a person’s ability to lead others as what he/she does from day to day to lead him/herself.”

Each of these questions has three components. Competency, Commitment, and Character are essential to the first question, “Am I a leader worth following?”

COMPETENCY

Do I possess or am I willing to learn the basic competencies of my leadership role? Do I stay curious instead of judging? Do I project calmness and optimism? Do I foster innovation and build connections? Am I able to delegate appropriately and ask good questions? Do I listen to and validate others?

COMMITMENT

Do I have the commitment to grow, learn and work towards becoming a level 5 leader? Do I have the commitment to make it through when things don’t go the right way? Have I asked myself the difficult “Why” question? Why do I do what I do? Why am I passionate about leading?

CHARACTER

Do I have the character to take the right action when needed so others will want to follow? In the short term people follow you because of what you do. In the long term people will follow because of who you are. Your personality influences your behaviours – it seldom determines them. How you behave influences how others behave in their interactions with you. Therefore, your effectiveness as a change agent – specifically the extent to which you can influence and persuade people to change – is affected by your personality. If you know your tendencies to act in a certain way, then as a mature leader you can control your actions and be a better change agent.

Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Do you believe we can shape who we are, and who we want to be? Do you possess the 7 characteristics that can be real game-changers? To learn more about the science of character: http://www.letitripple.org/character.

Leading yourself well means that you hold yourself to a higher standard of accountability than others. You are held responsible not just for your actions, but also for those you lead. John Maxwell writes,

“Leadership is a trust, not a right. For that reason, we must ‘fix’ ourselves earlier than others may be required to. We must always seek to do what’s right, no matter how high we rise or how powerful we become. It’s a struggle we never outgrow.”

The 3 components of the second question, “Am I building teams built to last?” are: Engage, Empower and Equip.

ENGAGE

Am I building a culture where team members are engaged in their work? Long-term sustained change requires people to be engaged. Do my colleagues feel like they are contributing and their work matters? Am I aware of the strengths and passions of my team members? Do I view people only as positions and value only what they can do for me?

EMPOWER

Am I empowering team members to be autonomous and able to achieve mastery and purpose? As former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously said,“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” More than anything else, people are motivated by progress. Are your team members empowered to ensure progress is happening in your organization?

EQUIP

Am I providing the tools required for our team to achieve its goals? Have I created a learning organization that continuously fosters growth and innovation? Am I providing the tools and training required for my members to excel in their roles?

Ultimately we choose leadership to have an impact and make a difference. Leaders see the world differently and want to create something new and do it with excellence. We can only do this when we start with these 2 fundamental questions.

John Neufeld, MSW, MBA
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

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