7 questions to ask yourself to be a better leader

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Be a Better Leader

To be a better leader, start with you.

When we work with leaders, the first questions we ask usually produce a pause, followed by a thoughtful, “That’s a great question.” If you want to be a better leader, you can use these same questions to examine your motivations and focus your work. Your influence starts with how you lead yourself. Reflecting on your answers to these seven questions will give you a strong foundation to influence others:

1) What do I really want?

When priorities multiply and you’re reactively running around, stop and clarify the M.I.T.  What is the Most Important Thing that you can achieve right now? In the middle of a leadership crisis, nothing provides clarity like this question.

Asking “what do I really want”  helps cut through drama and confusion. What do you want to happen because of your leadership in this situation? Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve been acting from an entirely different set of motivations than what it is you want deep down, where it matters. Many leaders sacrifice influence because they try to be “right” – to prove something, but underneath all that,  what they want is to be effective and accomplish the mission.

2) What are my values and personal mission?

Self-leadership strengthens when you know your own values and understand your purpose—what matters to you, what makes your heart sing when you are most alive. When you work from this energy, it’s naturally attractive to like-minded team members and you motivate almost without knowing it. If you haven’t done this work, it can be worth finding a coach or mentor to help you explore what matters most.

3) Am I choosing problems or trying to avoid problems?

Solving problems is central to meaningful leadership, but many leaders fall into a trap of trying to avoid problems. You don’t get to choose whether you’ll have problems, but often you DO get to choose which set of problems you’ll have. Effective leaders don’t waste time and emotional energy trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems—the ones that get them closer to their vision.

For leaders, it’s not IF problems, but WHICH problems.

For example:

  • Do you want the discomfort of learning how to address poor performance or do you want the discomfort of a team with poor morale and worse results?
  • Do you prefer the pain of changing your strategy or the pain of discovering your team is no longer relevant?

4) Am I willing to pay the cost to be a better leader?

In question #1, you looked at what you really want.

Now it’s time to look at the cost.

When you work to be a better leader and change things, it will include risk, discomfort, being misunderstood, and sacrificing other goals. Are you willing to accept the consequences of pursuing your vision? If not, you can’t possibly expect your team to come along with you.

5) Am I working for my team or myself?

Time to take a hard look in the mirror. No one will truly know the answer to this one but you.

When your decisions are in your heart and your head before you’ve given them a voice, do you filter them through what’s best for you – or best for your team? Are you saying “I”… or “we”?

It’s okay to include your own well-being in your decisions (you are one of the team after all!) But you won’t have influence if your team isn’t at the center of your leadership decisions.

6) How can I achieve the results I want to see?

We love this one because it puts you in the driver’s seat.

When you find yourself frustrated at circumstances, upset that people “just don’t get it”, or discouraged that things didn’t go as you hoped, you’ve got a choice:

Bemoan the unfairness of the universe (which inspires no one) or look at the situation and see where you can take action. Just asking the question completely reframes the situation and can transform a gloomy attitude in seconds.

7) Are my people better off because of their time with me?

This is a critical question if you want to be a better leader and have more influence. When people know that you care about them, that you help them grow, and that they’re more capable, they’ll follow you.

If the answer is yes, keep going. If the answer is no, examine the reasons.

Do you need to improve your skills? Do you need to wrestle with the earlier questions we listed?

Your Turn

We’ve used these 7 questions regularly to help us adjust and refocus when our leadership feels dull or confused.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share: What questions do you use to lead yourself and maintain your influence?

Manage your emotions when you make leadership decisions

How to Manage Your Emotions When You Make Leadership Decisions

Do you struggle to manage your emotions? You’re not alone.

We were speaking to an international gathering of leaders from across Europe when a young man approached the microphone and asked: “How, as a leader, do you keep your personal feelings from clouding your decision making?”

It’s a brave question because it’s vulnerable. He recognized the power of his emotions and their power to limit his leadership.

Can you relate? Have you ever made a poor leadership decision because you were scared? Worried what people would think? Didn’t want to be embarrassed?

I know I have.

Manage Your Emotions – Don’t Eliminate Them

Let’s be real: you can’t separate your personal feelings from your decision-making – nor should you.

For example, compassion is a personal feeling and I hope that you always lead and make decisions with compassion for your team and your customers.

We need leaders to do the work machines can’t do. That includes human decisions that account for more than what’s on the spreadsheet. Please, don’t lose your humanity.

That said, your feelings can also prevent you from making healthy leadership decisions.

When that happens, it’s often because:

A) You’re hurt (eg: an employee disrespected you and your first impulse is to act from anger)

or

B) You’re trying to avoid pain (eg: the pain of embarrassment or rejection).

How to Manage Your Emotions With Perspective

In the first scenario, when you’re hurt by a disrespectful employee, the key to manage your emotions is to understand that it’s not about you. They likely did not wake up that morning wondering “How can I really hurt my boss today?”

It’s more likely that they are insecure, in a poor fit, or there is some other reason that caused the behavior. You may not know why they did what they did, but when you take a moment to de-personalize their behavior and remember that it’s not about you, that they’re dealing with their own reality, it will help calm your flight or fight emotions.

Then you can focus on your job: to help get them back on track – or into a better fit.

Frame Your Problems

In the second scenario, where you’re facing pain like the risk of embarrassment or rejection, there are two techniques that can help you get perspective.

First, ask yourself which set of problems you want to have. There’s no problem-free scenario. Leadership is a conscious choice to embrace problems and to solve them.

Leadership: It’s not IF problems, but WHICH problems.

When you remind yourself that you have a choice, you prevent victim thinking from setting in. eg: “Do I want the problem of being disliked (that comes with removing a poor performer) or do I want the problem of a team performing poorly (that comes with allowing a poor performer to stay)?

You’re not a victim. You have a choice to make. Framing your choices gives you power and you’re less likely to want to hide from the pain.

Connect to What Matters Most

The second way to face emotional pain is to reconnect with your leadership values.

Eg: “I want the team to grow and succeed” or “I value results and relationships.”

Then ask a “How can I…” question to get you aligned with what you value.

Eg: “How can I do what is in the best interest of the team?” or “How can I focus on results and relationships in this situation?”

Asking a good “How can I…” question re-engages the thinking part of your brain and relaxes the powerful emotions that can push you in a different direction.

Your Turn

Effective leaders channel their emotions into healthy relationships with their team while putting aside their limited self-interests in favor of what will be best for the team in the long run.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts or best technique to prevent emotions from limiting your leadership.