You might have assumed that from the moment you were given the title of leader. You were required to be the source of all wisdom. In other words, you were supposed to be the person answering questions, not asking them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good leaders are humbled by the realization of all they do not know, and they quickly reach the conclusion that they’d better find some trusted advisers and ask a few questions.
Great leaders know that asking questions of a few won’t give them enough data. To succeed, they must make asking questions of anyone and everyone a top priority. Sometimes they must also answer difficult questions-questions that they don’t know the answer to or that they can’t answer without giving away confidential information or to which they know the answer will be unwelcome.
This behavior takes courage-courage because asking questions and admitting they don’t know an answer are not behaviors people expect from leaders. Ask most people to describe a leader, and they’ll use such words as “strong,” “resourceful,” “decisive,” and “bold.” If “curious,” “inquisitive,” and “questioning” get mentioned at all, they’ll be at the end of the list. Mental models are hard to change, but this is one leaders must change. If leadership requires right answers all the time, then only few will qualify. If, however, leadership requires challenging questions, then everyone can aspire to the title of leader.
Following are some of the principal questions every leader should ask himself, his employees, and his customers. Take the answers you receive as an energizing starting point for action. Be excited to develop a plan for your employees to get smarter about their work, and for enabling your organization to serve customers better.
Questions leaders need to ask themselves
1. What do I see happening in our organization over the next 12 months? Leaders have to talk about the future-all the time and at every opportunity.
What happens during your leadership team meetings? Maybe it’s time for you to discuss this question together. Whether you’re the team leader or a member, bring it up for conversation. If you lead from the middle of the organization, gather your peers and talk. Too often, everyone assumes that these issues are the responsibility of the organization’s real leader. In fact, real leaders exist at all levels of the organization, and the visions they have need to be part of the ongoing dialogue about the future.
2. What is the future of our industry? Most employees don’t have the opportunity to attend trade association meetings or have access to and the time to read industry forecasts, but they need the information obtained by doing both. That’s where you come in. As a leader, it is your job to understand the bigger picture. How does your organization fit into your industry? How do you rank against the competition? What changes are affecting the way you and your competition will do business in the future? You need to know these things to make wise decisions and chart a course into the future. The people at al levels of the organization need to know these things, too. They need to know so they have a better context for understanding management decisions. So they can help customers understand changes in policies and practices. So they can think about their own future. So they have hope.