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?

building your leadership credo

How To Build a Leadership Credo

What’s your leadership credo? Have you ever sat down to really think about your deepest beliefs and core values?

It’s so easy to just get through your day, without really thinking about how you lead and why. Days become months and months become years. Pressures, grooming, and politics all create counter-pressures to authenticity.

Articulating what you value, helps you to stay true to what you believe.

Every year, I take time out to work on my leadership credo– to reflect on what I believe and how this is translating into behaviors. Then, during good and bad times, I pull it out and see how I’m doing. Am I staying true to what I say I believe?

For the first time this week, I formalized the process and shared it with a group of leaders representing over 10 countries and a cross-section of industries. Today, I share the easy-to-implement process.

How to Build a Leadership Credo

1. Set up

This exercise pairs well with a discussion on leadership authenticity. It can easily be done in a team meeting, an offsite, or in a classroom. It works great in my MBA classes.

2. Creation

Encourage participants to use a combination of words, pictures, and any other creative sparks to articulate their credo (can be done as a “homework” assignment).  Encourage participants to be as creative as they possible and to limit their work to one page (the definition of a page may vary based on the medium). Each credo should include the following components:

  • Core leadership values (e.g. integrity, transparency)
  • Operating principles (e.g. develop strong peer relationships)
  • Desired outcomes (“As a result of my leadership this year_______”)

3. Gallery Walk

Provide each participant with 6 dot stickers for “voting” (3 yellow and 3 blue). Have each team member walk around the room and share their credos with one another. Give them enough time and space to really listen to one another’s point of view and to identify similarities and differences. When they are struck by the message or creativity of a particular credo, they can recognize their colleague with a yellow dot for the depth of thinking or a blue dot for creativity. You can reward the most dots in several creative ways.

4. Discussion

Debrief the themes and process with the group. For highlights of the themes and for examples of the creative credos watch the video summary. Let’s have some Monday fun. Share the most important aspects of your leadership credo.

For more easy-to-implement leadership tools and techniques check out our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results–Without Losing Your Soul and download our FREE book group facilitator’s guide. 

The Secret To Increased Productivity: 3 Steps to Improved Performance

Do you hope for increased productivity? The solution may be closer than you think.

A guest post from Karin Rigas, Greve, Denmark

Karin Moeller Rigas has worked as a Sales Manager, Executive Coach, and Management Consultant within Retail Banking for more than 25 years. Founder of www.emodigy.com, an e-learning site for managers, she is the author of the book, You are special – Strong foundations make great employees.

Looking for increased productivity? Don’t look for yet another tool to implement in the organization. Instead, look seriously within yourself as a manager and leader.

Scientific studies indicate…

  • Most frustrations during the day are caused by managers
  • Frustration leads to lower productivity
  • Recognition from the manager is by far the largest trigger for increased performance
  • People want to be successful and know when they are successful
  • Highly skilled leaders create high performing teams

Why not use yourself as the tool to increase performance and productivity?

There are 3 important elements to increasing productivity: establishing key values, structuring your interaction with employees, and continuously improving your own performance.

Establish Your Key Values

It starts by leaning on simple values.

Below are the values that guide my leadership, what would you add?

  • People want to do their best.
  • People want to be involved in designing their own future.
  • People’s strengths compensate for their focus areas (when they are in the right job)
  • Great storytelling is key to emotional engagement
  • Balancing “setting direction” and “developing people” in a clever way leads to success in leadership
  • A person’s best performance is built upon solutions they chose
  • People want to learn more– everyone learns differently.
  • Leaders must be multi-dimensional to be able to support the employees’ development.
  • Receiving and giving feedback with an open mind, creates trust in the relationship and is a pre-requisite for a great learning curve.
  • Leaders must be close to their people in everyday leadership.
  • Recognition and appreciation in everyday working life is the largest driver for great performances and good health.
  • ???

Structure your interactions

Be close to people in everyday management and leadership through regular and scheduled meetings like monthly meetings. Vary meeting style to include co-hosted meetings, success-sharing meetings and performance management meetings. The core tool for these conversations is coaching and feedback. These interactions are a great way to role-model and reinforce your key values.

Improve your own performance and productivity

Get coaching and feedback yourself. Let other people see you in action and let them help you with feedback and coaching. There is nothing more effective than on-the-job training– go ”all in.” The more you are willing to get feedback (from all directions), listen to it, and change, the larger a step you will take in your own personal development. The more you improve, the larger impact you will make on people activities and results.

Nemesis Mentors

The natural tendency when looking for mentors to turn to people who look like us, think like us, or value the same things we do.

It’s easier, and often precisely how people are matched in some formal mentoring programs.

That can be fantastic.

On the other hand, what about seeking out a mentoring relationship with the person that REALLY frustrates, annoys and angers you? A nemesis who ignites and challenges you? Who questions your motives and assumptions? A person that makes you so angry at them, you wonder if you could really be mad at yourself. One of those guys.

More tricky.

More entertaining.

And likely, more valuable.

In Greek mythology a Nemesis will “give what is due.” That doesn’t turn out so well in some of those stories. But what if what is due is just what you need?

I watch this dynamic at play in our church youth group. And looking back, a similar phenomena happened back in my youth group days (but I was too involved to see it).

Unlike school where you can pick who you hang out with; in the church scene, kids are pretty much required to do stuff with everyone and be nice about it.

The kids that inevitably drive one another crazy, can help each other the most. They think differently they care about different things, and often have something that might be missing or underdeveloped in the other. The growth happens when they spend time really digging in and opening up to one another. I have seen some amazing peer mentoring magic happen here, one on one– after the storm.

At work, we are all trained to get along, be team players, and work collaboratively to get stuff done, “you don’t have to like each other, just respect one another and work as a team.”

But what about seeking out the person that most annoys you in the group or organization? Of course, there is a 3.75% possibility that the guy’s just a real jerk. I’ve met him. But barring that, how about approaching that person with the Won’t You Be My Mentor? list?

Then, wait for the magic.