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Five questions that will make you a better leader

What kind of questions are you asking yourself?

I had a conversation recently with one of our managers. She has been recognized as a high-potential performer since her very first job. And in the past 2+ years, it has been my great pleasure to see her go from being a “Hi-Po” individual contributor to an increasingly effective manager and leader.

We recently talked about growing our leadership influence both with direct reports and with peer leaders. I shared with her five questions that should make all of us as leaders stronger in our insight and influence.

1. What are the unintended consequences of the decisions I make?

Several years ago, I managed a salesperson for whom I “bent the rules.” She was a single mom with a young child and had schedule challenges, so I let her miss more shifts than she should have, made exceptions for her when she showed up to sales events late, etc.  I thought I was doing the right thing by being understanding and accommodating. Not until she quit did I learn the unintended consequences of my actions: I heard from several of the other salespeople who worked for me that they felt I was unfair to them when I bent the rules for her.

2. Have I questioned all the underlying assumptions I’m making?

In other words, am I mistaken in some of my perspective, meaning my decisions end up being off. How can I do deeper due-diligence to make sure my assumptions are validated?

3. What can I learn from someone who disagrees with me, even if the way they are communicating is wrong?

How can I make sure I don’t let poor delivery of the message get in the way of me hearing any truth in the message? I’ve been at the receiving end of some very angry team members, vendors and customers. Am I mature enough to sort through the emotional energy to find the kernel of truth behind their position?


4. Can I fully articulate my counter-party’s position – from their perspective – in disagreements I’m engaged in?

We recently had some equipment-related issues at one of our facilities. It ultimately came out that we weren’t servicing the equipment in a timely and correct manner.  We know we weren’t trained well enough on this piece of equipment, but, from the installer’s perspective, we got trained (and didn’t have any questions after the training), so if there was an issue, it was our fault.  After we dug into things, it became apparent that they weren’t being belligerent; they just had a different perspective on things that we did.

5. As a leader, how do I make sure that I live by the “just because I’m right, doesn’t mean I’m right” approach?

This is the old adage, “you can win the battle, and still lose the war.” The challenge for any good leader is that they typically are one or two steps ahead of their team members. The problem with always being the smartest person in the room is that after a while, your team stops coming up with their own ideas. You’ve squelched their initiative and creativity. They feel devalued, and you feel like you have to do everything. The wise leader lets them run with things, even if they are running the wrong way; our balance comes in letting them learn without letting them hang themselves (and our organizations!).

Asking good questions — first of all to ourselves — is a vital way to grow as a leader. Leader – what other self-questions would you recommend?