4 questions leaders should ask themselves regularly

For leaders, it can be all too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day rituals associated with running a business. Often, executives are so tied up in everything going on that they are unable to step back and look at the big picture – and even those who recognize the need to do so may not know where to start. We compiled a list of questions that leaders may find helpful in terms of taking the first step.

What have I accomplished?

Asking this question at regular intervals will allow professionals in executive positions to benchmark not only their personal progress, but also how their company is developing as a whole. As business writer and strategist Abigail Phillips noted in an August 2014 article she penned for Entrepreneur magazine, monitoring achievements and accomplishments is a great way for leaders to see how far they’ve come, pat themselves on the back and derive inspiration to continue forward.

Monitoring achievements helps leaders to see how far they’ve come.”

“Strive to undertake at least one meaningful task each day that will directly help you reach your end goals,” Phillips advised. “If you believe you could have achieved more, harness your disappointment and channel that energy to help you work harder the next day.”

How do I treat my people?

Part of being a leader means taking responsibility for individuals other than oneself. Employees are a company’s lifeblood, so it’s important to ensure they are being treated fairly and with respect. After all, if an enterprise were a boat, members of the C-suite would be standing at the helm while the rest of the workforce would be rowing – in short, employees are the ones keeping business moving, and without them, there would be no company.

“Your people are even more important than your customer,” asserted Ken Krogue, InsideSales.com president and Forbes contributor.

Krogue urged leaders to take a look at not only their own successes, but also those of the workforce as a whole. How are they helping or hindering employees’ efforts to be productive, make their voices heard, climb the corporate ladder and educate themselves in order to better serve the company?

Am I encouraging constructive debate or defaulting to a groupthink mentality?

Studies have shown that diverse companies tend to be more innovative because their people bring a greater range of ideas to the table. Ultimately, however, any group of individuals can be encouraged to engage in constructive debate, no matter how similar their backgrounds and ways of thinking – but they may need a helping hand, which is where leaders come in.

“The best leaders know that the most powerful insights arise from challenging discussion but they also know that constructive dissent is not something most humans are proficient at … but when we are confronted by a consensus point of view, we are prone to groupthink agreement because of the human motivation to conform when we feel outnumbered,” wrote Ted Cadsby, author, consultant, corporate director and former executive vice president at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in an article for the Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab. “Smart leaders do battle with these two traps by creating safe environments where team members are encouraged to challenge each other in sensitive but assertive ways – where the stated objective is getting to the right decision, not celebrating individual rhetoric or prioritizing unanimous agreement.”

Constructive debate often yields superior outcomes to the groupthink phenomenon.
Constructive debate often yields superior outcomes to the groupthink phenomenon.

Do I practice what I preach?

One of the quickest ways to lose the respect of the workforce is to encourage one course of action and then travel down a completely different path. The “Do as I say, not as I do” approach can be disastrous for morale and may compromise employees’ adoption of corporate values. After all, if their superiors don’t embody characteristics and behaviors that are highly prized by the organization, why should they?

The ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach can be disastrous.”

Individual companies may have their own specific mission statements and core values, but those that are embraced by the military are a good place to start, regardless of industry. Consider the three Marine Corps Values, as excerpted by Heritage Press International from the book “Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines”: honor, courage, and commitment. Leaders who espouse – not just embody – these traits are in a good position on the battlefield and in the boardroom.

The bottom line

Of course, leaders should not confine themselves to the four questions outlined above, as there are numerous things they will likely benefit from asking on a frequent basis. Indeed, Cadsby suggested that one question they should return to at regular intervals is “Am I asking enough good questions?”

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for 50 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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