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.
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?
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