There’s an old maxim about not answering a question with a question, so I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna answer a question with TEN questions!
And the question is: How can you become a more “self-aware” leader?
As one of the keys to being an effective leader is self-awareness, here are five more powerful, thought-provoking, and challenging questions you need to think about – and be ready, willing and able to answer – if you truly want to be a more reflective – and effective – leader:
Question 6: Why should anyone be led by you?
How would you answer this incredibly personal and challenging question (posed by authors Goffee & Jones in their classic HBR article and book of that name)? If you’re someone’s manager, they have to be managed by you because you’re their boss. But they don’t have to be led by you… unless they choose to. So why should someone willingly choose to follow you? What leadership characteristics do you believe you possess? If you left your current role, would your people leap at the chance to join you… or would they leap in the air in celebration of your exit? I’ve had a few (very few!) bosses that I would have followed to the ends of the earth: the leaders who inspired me to “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” And I’ve had other bosses who I wouldn’t have followed across the street for a million dollars. (Alright, maybe a million dollars…but not a penny less!) So, now tell us: Why should we hire you to be our leader?
Question 7: What are some of the key leadership lessons you would want to pass along to others?
It is often said that one of the most important responsibilities – and privileges – of being a leader is developing the next generation of leaders. I often use the metaphor of the “Leadership Journey” where the windshield represent the leader’s vision of the future, the dashboard represents the metrics we use to gauge our progress and measure success, and the rear view mirror represents the crucial importance of taking time for “reflection.” So as you think about your own personal leadership journey, what are some of the nuggets you have picked up along the way that you would like to share with us? And if you were to fast-forward to your retirement party, what would you want your “leadership legacy” to be? What do you want to be known for, and known as? How would you like to be remembered? And, with that in mind, what do you need to do between now and then to turn that vision into a reality?
Question 8: “Who are the people in your life who make you a better person – and a better leader?”
We asked (way back in Question 3) who some of the people are from your past who shaped who you are today. Building on that, who are the people in your life right now that you can count on to help make you a better leader going forward? Who can you count on to be open and honest and truthful, with no other agenda but to help you to be the best person and the best leader you can be? President Eisenhower, in his memoir, “At Ease,” wrote: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, and who see more clearly than you.” We can’t do it alone. Without followers – and without people for us to follow, leadership would not exist. The best leaders surround themselves – on all sides – with people whom they trust implicitly without question, doubt, or fear. So who are those people for you?
Question 9: What are you reading?
Harvard Business School professor John Kotter once said that “The most notable trait of great leaders is their continuous quest for learning.” And President John F. Kennedy wrote that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Many people think and act like once you’re done with school, you’re done with learning. But great leaders know that nothing can be further from the truth. Yes, we learn much of what we need to know from real-world on the job experiences plus training, coaching and feedback, etc. But it’s also absolutely crucial for leaders to always be reading. Whether it is the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, Business Week or Fortune, trade journals or industry blogs, you never know where your next big idea is going to come from. And though it’s hard to keep up with every new business book that hits the shelves, keep at it! Set a goal to read (at least) a book a month. Whether you set out to conquer the classics by gurus like Kotter, Drucker, or Bennis, or strive to keep up with the latest leadership conversations from Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, SmartBrief, (and thoughtLEADERS!), just keep at it! The best leaders are also teachers, coaches, and mentors who share this knowledge and create a learning culture around them. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Question 10: Are you a good follower?
Lastly, to be a good leader, it’s also important – when the situation warrants – to be a good follower. Thomas Paine said we need to either “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” The key is to have the wisdom to know when to do which. In the movie, “The American President,” Michael J. Fox’s character says to (President) Michael Douglas, “People want leadership. And in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.” So sometime you need to be the one to step up the microphone. But other times, the most appropriate and valiant act of leadership is to step aside – and let someone else lead. We often think of the leader as the person who goes first. But it is also possible to lead by being the person who steps up next… as Derek Sivers teaches us in his now-classic (and hysterical) 3-minute video entitled, “First Follower: Leadership Lessons From Dancing Guy”