Robert Kaplan, Professor of Management at the Harvard Business School has authored a book that says it all by its title: Looking In the Mirror: Questions Every Leader Must Ask. In a recent article in the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, author Carmen Nobel dissects the new book by focusing in on Kaplan’s belief that great leadership in not all about having the right answers but is about asking the right questions.
“Most leaders spend a lot of their time looking for answers. Very often, they may feel isolated and alone. I want to help them refocus their attention on framing and then discussing the key questions that will help them regroup, mobilize their team, formulate a plan, and move forward.”
The author organizes his thoughts by asking his own questions about Leadership skills and aspirations. “Show me a company or nonprofit or government in trouble, and I will almost invariably show you a set of leaders who are asking absolutely the wrong questions.”
+ Have you developed a clear vision and key priorities for your enterprise? Do you and your fellow employees have the same clear vision for the organization? Are your key priorities the same as theirs? Often Kaplan reports that employee priorities are significantly different than those professed by the Leadership. It is vital to synchronize those efforts. Three to five priorities need to be detailed and emphasized by all and eliminate those that don’t achieve success for the organization.
+ Does the way you spend your time match your key priorities? Too many times we find ourselves too busy to even plan and contemplate. We all know that busy work isn’t always priority work. Find the time to prioritize and then share those thoughts with the team. “When someone asks you to spend time on work that doesn’t match your key priorities, the right action is probably to say no. Once you have a better matching of your time with priorities, you’ll want to encourage your direct reports to do the same.”
+ Do you coach and also solicit feedback from your key subordinates? It is not easy being isolated at the top of the pyramid. Though many organizations have flattened their org chart, you are still left with few if any individuals to assist you on your daily adventures. You certainly are there to coach your direct reports but who is there to coach you? Kaplan recognizes the value of gaining feedback from others within the organization. “Leadership is a team game. You have to solicit help from others or you’re likely to under-achieve your potential.”
+ If you had to design your company today with a clean sheet of paper, what would you change? Organizations do lose their way; sometimes success directs the organizations wildly but much too often reaction to failure can steer the entity beyond its planned purpose. Take the time and create systems that will allow you and others within the organization to contemplate the current organizational situation and what and where it should be in the future.
+ Do you act as a role model? Whether you like it or not, you are a role model at your organization and you must act accordingly. If you cut corners or have questionable ethics, others will notice and shadow your actions. A Leader will take the opportunity to display positive traits in the desire for those traits to be replicated . Make sure you act as you speak – no one appreciates a hypocrite.
+ Are you reaching your potential and being true to yourself? If you don’t really know yourself, how can you be an effective Leader? Know your abilities and know your failings, it is important to improve on both. “In the end, it’s not about meeting everyone else’s expectations … it’s about reaching your unique potential and developing your own leadership style.”
+ Recognizing Your Passions. Are you enjoying what you do daily? Are you jumping out of bed every morning ready to take on your next assignment? If it has become a grind and your not enjoying yourself or the job any longer, it is time to reevaluate. Just because there are tasks you don’t like to perform doesn’t mean they just disappear. Those tasks need to be completed and if you prefer not to do them, then you must assign them to others. After all, I don’t like to do my taxes but that doesn’t mean that the IRS will look the other way when I don’t file them on time. As a Leader, if you don’t enjoy performing a function, or more realistically there are others who perform the task better and more efficiently, then make sure you assign such matters to those who can complete the task.
Looking at yourself in the mirror can be an arduous task; you may not like what you see! You know yourself best and to achieve success you must be honest with yourself and make the appropriate changes within before you take on the organization. Ever wonder why there are many more followers than leaders? If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Dig deep to find your true talents and most importantly don’t be frightened away by failure; it is a wonderful learning experience.
Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career. He is one of only 230 Association Executives worldwide who has been granted the prestigious designation of Fellow by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) since 1986. He currently is between positions and has written more than 75,000 words or 125 blog postings on the topics of job search, career transition and association management.
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