Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a series of actions.
Every company will say it values leadership, but few actually model the behaviors that great leadership consists of. Having worked in several global organizations and consulted for many more, I’ve seen my fair share of poor executive leadership on display.
Over the past few months, I’ve read as many books and behavioral studies about leadership as I could get my hands on. Reflecting on my own experiences in light of what I’ve read, I came up with 14 questions I think every person leading a team or organization should ask themselves.
I’ve arranged them loosely sequentially; click on each question to link to a deeper dive into the topic.
Do you want to do right or do you want to be right? (Ego over outcome)
Being proven wrong should be a cause for celebration, because it means you learned something new.
Your team members often disagree with you, whether they say so or not. Your job as a leader is to create a safe space for doing so, because they are closer to the problems they are solving than you are.
Doing the right thing for people often requires you to be willing to make yourself a little bit uncomfortable in service of the best outcome.
Saying that you’re open to feedback isn’t enough. As a leader, it is your responsibility to build a bridge of trust strong enough to withstand the truth, and that is not easy to do.
If you want to retain your best talent, you need to be willing to be transparent. The smartest people are also the most acutely aware of when you’re bullshitting them.
You probably became a leader because you’ve been a high performer. But to get the most out of your team, you need to fight your natural urge to add value all the time.
Are you optimizing for the right behaviors? (Do you reward people for being just like you?)
Senior leadership positions are scarce, creating natural competition within organizations. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a team of leaders who are actually most interested in themselves.
Doing and leading are two very different skill sets. The best organizations understand the difference and view leadership as a standalone skill set that can be applied to any business area.
Are the things you stand for even within your control? (Do you focus too much on outcomes?)
As an executive, you’re accountable for metrics & outcomes that are not fully within your control. You’re paid the big bucks to deal with that, so don’t cascade that down to your teams. Prioritize processes they can control over outcomes they cannot.
Most CEOs and senior leaders have a spotless record, which isn’t necessarily indicative that they are best for the job, but simply that they’ve taken the least risk. Be mindful of the diversity of experience in your organization and learn to value failures where people have stretched their comfort zones.
Years of experience is one of the most useless signals of a person’s capability. What matters is one’s appetite for continuous learning, penchant for curiosity, and ability to reflect on experience. This is what translates information into knowledge.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, well done is better than well said. The platitudes you display on your conference room walls are meaningless if the behaviors you model signal something different.
In legacy companies especially, too many leaders try to make themselves linchpins out of overcomplexity and creating unnecessary dependencies. The most valuable leaders–the ones who really know what they are doing–are able to simplify the complex and ensure the business can function smoothly without them.
All of the questions above point loosely at one question: are you self-aware? If so, you have the single most important leadership skill, and every organization should look to value self-awareness as a cornerstone to its culture.