THREE QUESTIONS EVERY LEADER SHOULD DARE THEMSELVES TO ANSWER.
Leadership can be a little like climbing a mountain, it takes preparation, some training, endurance, tough-mindedness, and a support team. Both struggles will test the leader and those struggles will either make or break that leader. No one wants to fail at either of these endeavors, but sometimes leaders burn out or fall from dizzying heights, and some mountain climbers don’t come home.
Leadership has some common elements, no matter the level of leadership responsibility; if you are starting out in your first assignment, or if you have been at it a while and have risen above your peers. If you own your own business, or working in the corporate world, or even within a faith-based organization, if you pause to look around, you will find these three factors determine leadership success or failure.
What are these three factors and why are they so important? They are People, Fear, and Limitations. They are important because without clarity, (that is honest, reality-based knowing yourself), and careful monitoring they can lead to your failure or damage to the organization. One of the greatest deterrents to effective leadership is denial about who you are and how well you perform under stress, (we won’t deal with this in this article, that is subject all it’s own). Short-sighted denial often assists leaders to ignore three of the most pressing questions they must dare themselves to answer.
The People Question
All leaders are leaders because someone is following, that is, in some way, they have a support team who help move them toward a specific goal. People are the most common factor at every leadership level, no matter the mission or organization, people follow the leader who leads.
If we are lucky, we have worked for a leader who understood that their success rises or falls with the whole team. They are inclusive, and open to ideas while affirming, and willing to listen. They take stock of who they are and they know who to assign to what task. This team gets things done. They rise to the challenges they face and they overcome those challenges because they are unified in all they do.
At some point in our career, we have all worked for a leader who thought that their role was to direct, rule and manage their people so that they get the results that they demand. They thought that they were a great leader, but they were actually a mid-level dictator who may have gotten limited results while experiencing constant personnel turnover. They blame the limited results on the people assigned to them, and they blame the shoddy results on the constant turnover, never asking the right question or taking personal responsibility for the results of their team.
The difference between these two leaders is obvious to the people being led but often hidden to the one leading. Everyone has blind spots, so overcoming or reorienting those blind spots into something more positive takes the guts to ask tough questions, then honestly answer those questions.
The core of every successful leadership endeavor is relationships, so the People Question centers on those relationships. The question every leader must ask from time to time is: “Do I have anything in me that hinders my ability to connect with people?”
Successful leaders have these general qualities that help them to rightly relate to their team.
1. They are open, friendly, and warm.
2. They are authentic and genuine in their interest in others.
3. They are connected and appropriate in relationships, work, and personal life. They are congruent and relevant with others.
People are the key to success, and effective leaders work at connecting with people.
The Fear Question
We have many things in common, but one of the most typical is our ability to ask ourselves The What-if Question. What-if…I fail? What-if…I don’t get the support I need? What-if (you fill in the blank) I think you get the idea. The what-if question just seems to pop up at the most inconvenient moments. And what can feel even worse is that we can feel that gnaw in our own soul, then someone comes along and asks that needle-like question by asking us, “What-if…?”
That question will drain you of energy, it will suck hope and perseverance straight out of your heart.
Sometimes that question comes in other forms, making it a bit more difficult to diagnose. But deep down you sense it. There is a hesitation that causes you to not follow through on the thing that you know is needed. You know what you must do, but you find every reason to put off till tomorrow what you know should be done today.
Often, the center of leadership breakdown is the hidden, unidentified fear. So, the fear question is: Are there “what-if” causing me to worry; just what is it that is stealing my energy? Unidentified fears, all the what-ifs that are not dealt with will become a ticking bomb that will eventually explode causing damage to your team, your project, and even your reputation.
Ask the fear question often. Keep a clear head and heart and take these steps to defuse the bomb.
1. Defuse your fears and your concerns.
Get honest, be ruthlessly self-aware. Take the power out of all those fears.
2. Design contingencies to deal with your what-ifs.
The reason we ask, what-if so often is that sometimes those fears are based in reality. So plan, think, and process, take responsibility by designing a contingency plan.
3. Get with your team or someone you trust to brainstorm next-step actions.
Nothing deflates the size of a what-if like a solid plan that is reality-based and measurable. Soon, very soon, you will notice how small that fear was and how much progress you have made. Face that fear head-on, make a plan, then execute.
The Limitation Question
The third, and most difficult question every leader must ask is one that most leaders if they are truly leading, do not want to consider, let alone answer. The Limit Question is: Are you leading and living beyond your limits?
Leaders by the very nature of their own wiring and strengths feel that they are made to do more and do it more effectively. Leaders are after all, out front. They set the pace, they set the standards and the direction of the mission. So, by default, they must maintain the pace, the direction, and the outcomes of all that they do. But, too often leaders refuse to even consider this question causing them to implode. We have all heard the stories, or seen with our own eyes what happens to a leader who does not monitor their own depleted nature.
Here are a few other questions to help you monitor your limits.
1. Are you early hurt or offended?
Being easily hurt or offend is the clearest indicator that you are living and leading past your endurance level.
Get some rest, no one, but no one, is indispensable, even though you may think you are. Your team can get along without you for a few days.
2. Are you always feeling on edge?
This, like number one above, is a quick and clear indicator that you are depleted.
No one likes working for, or with, someone who is on edge. Get some rest and get some help!
3. Have you lost sight of the larger picture?
This one is not so easy to spot, but if you listen to what your team or family are saying about you, you just may realize that you have moved off the mark by a degree or two because you are doing too much…which leads us to the next point.
4. Are you trying to do it all?
This is larger than talent or skill; this is a trust issue!
Some leaders think that if it is to be done right then they must do it. Tell me, how much do you think your team trusts you? You’re not trusting them to do what they are charged to do, so why in the world would they trust you?
5. Are you becoming overly protective of your time and energy?
Have you noticed that we tend to protect that which is most valuable to us? If you are over-zealous in protecting your time and energy, it’s because you feel like it is being taken from you. Big Red-flag my friend!
6. How consistent is your spiritual life?
I personally believe this is huge, keep reading.
As a leader, you must intentionally build into your life a recharging station or two. For some people, exercise helps recharge creative batteries. Nature does it for others. If that’s you, get out there and soak up some sunshine! Working with your hands can help. Are you hard-wired to restore things? Then find a way to put your hands to work restoring something that matters to you. Personally, I find solace in repairing antique fountain pens; it helps me keep my balance when I work with my hands.
I for one, believe at my core, reconnecting to faith matters deeply in maintaining balance. Get back to your faith. Build those practices back into your life. Remember you are made for a purpose, find it again as you reconnect with the Sovereign One.
It is my deep hope that this short article helps you find some strength and clarity. If you need someone to talk to, someone to guide you past your own frustrations or roadblocks, contact me. The best way to do that is to go to the top of the home page, then click that button that says; Schedule your free success session.
Until then – Thrive!