The most importat leadership question

The Most Important Leadership Question You’ll Ever Ask

When you think about leading a productive team, what’s the first question that comes to mind? How to get the right people on the team? What’s the perfect vision? Or maybe you have questions about training or infrastructure. Of course, these questions are all important, but they’re not the most important leadership question.

If you want to lead energized, motivated teams, the most important leadership question you can ask is about you. Specifically, a question about your motivations.

The question is: “Why do I want to lead?”

Five P’s

There are typically five reasons people choose to lead a team.

They are:

  1. Power
  2. Prestige/Pride
  3. Purse / Pennies / Pesos / Pounds
  4. People
  5. Purpose

Three Problematic Ps

Let’s take a look at the first three of these reasons people choose to lead a team:

Power—they want to tell people what to do.

Prestige or Pride—they feel better about themselves or enjoy the status from the title.

Purse—they take leadership roles for the money.

Leaders who turn into dreaded bad bosses often take on their leadership roles for one or more of these three reasons. Maybe they like having power and want the money that comes with it. Or perhaps their sense of well-being is wrapped up in the title.

This leads to a few problems. First, they won’t inspire your team or energize your team. They don’t care about that stuff for you.

And second, these motivations are motivation black-holes. Power is an illusion—you can’t actually make anyone do anything. It’s always their choice. The prestige fades or becomes self-defeating when you realize there’s always something more prominent. Likewise, someone will always have a nicer house or car (and the money rarely equals the headaches and responsibilities that come with real leadership).

Two Powerful Ps

Leaders accomplish results with and through people. As we say in Winning Well: it’s all about results and relationships. Those are the motivations in the final two Ps, People and Purpose.

People—serving and supporting your team or organization.

Purpose—achieving a specific mission.

The Most Important Leadership Question

To lead a productive, energetic, motivated team, start with your motivations. Be honest with yourself: Do you choose to lead in order to serve your team and accomplish meaningful results?

If you find that power, prestige, and the pull of the purse are your motivators, you will have trouble. People instinctively know when you don’t care about them or don’t care about the mission.

If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at your motivations, can you take some time to reflect on how people and purpose show up in your daily leadership?

The good news is that no matter why you started leading, it’s never too late to choose people and purpose. You can begin by filtering your decisions through two questions:

  • How will this serve the team?
  • How will this help us achieve results?

If the answer to either question is ever “It won’t”… then don’t it.

A Final Thought

We live in the real world and human beings (including us) care about money, roles, and status. People and Purpose don’t mean you eliminate your desire for the others—they just aren’t the main reasons you choose to lead.

As you prioritize people and purpose, you will find those motivations coming to mind more easily and influencing your decisions. You’ll also see your team’s productivity, energy, and motivation improve.

We’d love to hear from you: How do you keep people and purpose at the forefront of your leadership and decision-making?

really bad boss

An Anatomy of the "User" Manager

If you only care about next week’s results, bring in a User Manager. He’ll get it done. But watch out for the aftermath. You know the type–the kind of manager who works to win at all costs. The guy who’s “all business” or the woman who’s “got no time for that crap (meaning connection and understanding).” They’ve got their teams spinning, scared to under-perform. Although there’s lots of work being done, stress and fear squelch creativity and conversation. The sad truth is, a “User” mentality can often improve results in the short term, but is no way to add lasting value.

An Anatomy of a User Manager

In our Winning Well model, David and I call folks like this “Users” because they tend to see people as objects to be used in order to get results.

VALUES:

User managers value confidence above humility. They prioritize results above relationships.

FOCUS:

User managers focus on short-term results. They emphasize getting things done today and will worry about tomorrow when it gets here.

BEHAVIORS:

User managers tend to treat people as objects—the people are there to achieve results and that is their only value. These managers push hard for results and try to compel productivity through fear, power, and control. At the extreme they say things like, “If you don’t like it, leave” and, “Why should I say thank you? It’s their job.” They do not offer relevant encouragement and are inconsistent with accountability, often becoming reactionary and explosive when frustrated with poor results. Their meetings are often one-way information dumps with requests for input met with silence. Meetings also end in silence, which the manager mistakes for agreement.

OUTCOMES:

People—User managers create work environments that resemble sweatshops. They do achieve results, but at a high cost. Their employees do the least possible to avoid punishment. People leave as soon as they can afford to. Employees don’t solve problems or take initiative; they are happy to leave those tasks to their manager.
Manager—Since they get things done through fear, power, and control they have to spend a tremendous amount of energy policing their workers, forcing people to work, and replacing employees who leave. They often feel out of control (since they can’t possibly control everything or everyone.) Frequently, these managers are frustrated, bitter, stressed, and suffer from poor physical and emotional health.

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or others, we’ve got really practical tools and techniques to help you win well in the long run. Learn more here. http://winningwellbook.com

Boss Says and Other Stupid Games “Leaders” Play

Weak managers hide behind powerful. Wimpy leaders fear their own opinions. Teams can’t follow pass through. Be inspired by your boss. Understand their vision. Then, make it your own.

Never play, “my boss says.” Copycats don’t inspire vision, build trust, motivate greatness, or develop anyone.

Don’t enable teams to pull the “boss says” lever.

As Kouzes and Posner explain, “If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not, in the long-term, be able to be consistent in word and deed. You will not have the integrity to lead.” -Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Watch a “boss sayser” closely. They likely wimp out in other ways too. Don’t count on them to tell the truth, up down or sideways.

Great leaders don’t play games.

Own Your Words & Actions

When the decision is unpopular or you disagree, it’s tempting to credit or blame those above. Don’t. Your team trusts you. Your boss is scary. Your bosses boss is even scarier. Big titles feel scary from afar.

  • Understand
  • Ask questions
  • Voice concerns
  • Work through your apprehension
  • Listen
  • Share pros and cons
  • Own it
  • Do what you say

Boss Says and Other Stupid Games "Leaders" Play

Weak managers hide behind powerful. Wimpy leaders fear their own opinions. Teams can’t follow pass through. Be inspired by your boss. Understand their vision. Then, make it your own.

Never play, “my boss says.” Copycats don’t inspire vision, build trust, motivate greatness, or develop anyone.

Don’t enable teams to pull the “boss says” lever.

As Kouzes and Posner explain, “If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not, in the long-term, be able to be consistent in word and deed. You will not have the integrity to lead.” -Kouzes & Posner, The Leadership Challenge

Watch a “boss sayser” closely. They likely wimp out in other ways too. Don’t count on them to tell the truth, up down or sideways.

Great leaders don’t play games.

Own Your Words & Actions

When the decision is unpopular or you disagree, it’s tempting to credit or blame those above. Don’t. Your team trusts you. Your boss is scary. Your bosses boss is even scarier. Big titles feel scary from afar.

  • Understand
  • Ask questions
  • Voice concerns
  • Work through your apprehension
  • Listen
  • Share pros and cons
  • Own it
  • Do what you say
Questions that intimidate

A Question of Intimidation: Questions that Shut People Down

Questions are powerful. They can motivate, and inspire deeper thinking.

Great questions empower.

Questions can also intimidate, frustrate and shut down people down.

The most dangerous are those where the leader already “knows” the answer and is looking to see if the person will “get it right.” Closed-ended questions can have a similar impact if the leader only wants to hear “yes” or “no.”

Such “tests” may have their occasional place in ops reviews and interviews, but the side effects can be deadly as a general leadership practice.

Questions that Intimidate and Disengage:

These aggressive inquiries seem to rear their ugly heads most frequently under times of stress and urgency precisely when more calm and creative thinking would be most beneficial.

  • What do I have to do to get you to…?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Did I ask you to do that?
  • Is that really working?
  • What is your experience in this area?
  • Who gave you the authority to make that decision?
  • Is that your final decision?
  • Are you sure about that?
  • What makes you think that will work?

In Dan Rockwell’s post, Too Many Questions, he shares that teams who are always asking what to do is a sign of a micromanaging leader– someone who is delegating tasks instead of  “delegating tasks versus results, vision,  and resources.”

If employees are intimidated or fearful, they may ask questions in order to keep from “getting it wrong.”Which of course, limits creativity and innovations, and stifles growth. When someone brings you too many questions, try flipping the script and be the question answer. Here’s a great methodology that can help.

What questions do you find most intimidating? What questions work best to inspire innovation and growth?