Eight Essential Leadership Questions

Can You Answer Yes?: Eight Questions for Leaders

Are you a great leader? Do you get results year after year? Do you lead a team that is inspired and reaches higher levels of productivity every year? Is your team communicative, creative, and committed? Do you have the department everyone wants to work for? Well, if you paused ever so slightly when answering these questions, then maybe you need to answer the “Eight Quintessential Questions for Leaders.” These questions, when answered and acted upon, can make you a leader of unparalleled excellence. 

Do you have a mission, vision, and values statement? 

As I travel around the country conducting leadership development programs, I often ask if there are mission and vision statements. The answer is often, “What? Yes, didn’t you see it on the marble plaque in our lobby?” I then ask if their teams know the mission and vision statements. That is when I get the mumbling, unclear, evasive answers. I then ask how the mission and vision relate to the team’s work. They then look at me like I have 17 eyes. 

Look, there is no point in having a mission and vision if the team doesn’t    know what either is. If they don’t know, then they can’t apply them to their work. If that is the case, the statements have no more value than the wallpaper in the lobby under the plaque.  It is the leader’s responsibility to translate the mission and vision for the team. What does it mean in terms of specific action? Okay, next question: what if your organization doesn’t have these? Then create them. Get together as a group and develop them. The advantage of mission and vision statements is that they help a team articulate who they are, what they do, and why they are doing it. 

Do you have a short-, mid-, and long-term strategy? 

What is the plan, Stan? What is the view, Drew? What are the objectives, strategies, and tactics for the team? By definition, short-term is six months, midterm is 18 months, and long-term is 24 months. When you practice long-term thinking as a leader, it enables you to make better decisions with the long-term view. I meet leaders all the time who don’t have mid- and long-term strategies. How do I know? I ask them, and they can’t answer the question.  

The job of a true leader is to point the team toward the future, and you can’t do that if you don’t even know what that future is. I believe that the higher you go in an organization, the more the focus on time changes. Front-line workers are thinking about today and this week. Supervisors are thinking about and planning for this month. Managers are thinking about and planning for the next two quarters or maybe the year. Vice presidents are thinking about the next few years, and the CEO should be spending a good deal of time thinking about the next five years.

Do you hire people smarter than you? 

We live in the age of specialization. Potential candidates being interviewed are experts in finance, marketing, or sales. The best leaders are generalists and can see the big picture. They hire specialists. Leaders should try to find people who are smarter than they are in their areas of expertise. After all, what are you hiring them for? You want the best and the smartest you can find because they get results. When leaders’ teams get results, the leaders win as well as the teams. If you are afraid that the person you hire will take your job, then great! That’s the goal so that you can move up. Besides, if you’re that insecure, you shouldn’t be in a leadership role anyway. 

Do you communicate well with the team?

When I ask this question to groups, 99.9% of the leaders tell me they are great communicators. Most teams I interview tell me they have no idea what is going on and feel like they are in the dark. Do you see a gap there? The problem is not that leaders are not communicating. It’s that they are not communicating effectively. Sending an email doesn’t mean that you communicated. It means you sent an email.  

Every leader should be doing the following: 1) having regular and consistent staff meetings; 2) meeting one on one with each team member consistently; 3) using communication methods ( email, phone, memo, voice mail, etc.) that work best for the specific situation, not just using one because it is a favorite. Most leaders are too busy to communicate effectively and then blame the team when something goes wrong. 

Have you created a motivational environment? 

Are your people excited, enthusiastic, and interested in their work? It is up to the leader to create that kind of environment. How?

  • By having the kind of positive and upbeat attitude yourself that you expect from your people. Employees model their leaders’ behaviors.
  • By treating people like valued members of a great team.
  • By making sure the physical environment of the space is acceptable. I’ve seen break rooms in such sorry shape that I wouldn’t even let my dogs go into them. I’ve seen offices with peeling paint and dirty carpet. What message does that send?
  • By hiring people who represent the way you want the culture to be and fire people who are mean, difficult, and uncooperative. Remember, they are the environment, and one sourpuss can make for a tough morale problem for all.

Do you reward exceptional performance?

Here is the biggest myth I hear all the time from leaders: “I have to treat everyone the same.” Wrong. Wake up and smell the coffee! If you do not reward exceptional performance, then those exceptional performers will leave. Yes, HR policy has to be the same in order to not be discriminatory. Figure out some incentives, and reward for extraordinary performance.  When exceptional performance happens, recognize it and reward it.  

Many years ago, I worked for a company and had an outstanding year. When I had my annual review, my boss said, “This was an amazing year, and you really wowed us.” He then told me I was getting a four-percent increase in my compensation. As I sat with smoke coming out of my ears, I asked, “How can I perform exceptionally and get four percent?”  He calmly said, “Most people this year only got two percent.” So I asked, “So being exceptional is only worth two percent?” This was met with a shrug. I left the company not long after that. 

Do you hold people accountable? 

I was speaking to a prospective client recently who said one of her organization’s issues is that managers have annual reviews and tell people they are doing a good job when they aren’t.  When I asked why that was the case, she said it was because the managers didn’t want to create conflict. What? Managers with no courage?  

In reality, it shouldn’t take courage for leaders to hold people accountable. People want to be held accountable. Here’s the key point: those who are doing a good job want credit for it. They’re tired of other people not pulling their weight and getting away with it. As a leader, holding people accountable will make you popular with the achievers and very unpopular with the underachievers (who probably shouldn’t be there anyway).  Leadership is not about popularity, but respect. 

Are you committed to employee development? 

All employees on every team deserve to have discussions with their leaders about their career goals. Every leader should then work with each team member to help create an individual development plan at least once a year and then follow up regularly to help them get there.  

When this is done well, it puts an end to “dead-end jobs” because all have goals they are working toward. Team members feel respected and appreciated because the leader spent time talking about their future. Here is the other surprise: when you work with employees to help them develop, most of them will say this is the first time a leader ever cared enough to help them develop. 

So there you have it. Are these easy to do? Nope. Nobody ever said that leadership would be easy. But I can tell you this: you can have an amazing impact on your team by applying these eight principles. Yes, you can be the leader of the department that everyone wants to work for.

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