I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The most important thing I do as a business coach is to listen to what business leaders tell me. It’s only after I hear about what’s really going on in a business that I can begin to offer a leader help in turning his company into a great company.
Often, to get to the “what’s-really-going-on-with-your-business?” level, I need to ask some probing questions. Here are my top five critical leadership questions. The answers to these questions reveal a lot about what kind of leader you really are.
1. Do you have a clear vision for the future? Your vision needs to be specific and measureable—otherwise how will you know if you’ve achieved it? And while it should be specific, it also needs to be a Big Picture vision. You can’t just focus on one aspect of your business. And you need to be communicating this vision to your team constantly. (I’ll give you a little “bonus” tip on this at the end of this post)
2. Do you lead primarily by asking or telling? This is about more than being polite. Good leaders don’t dictate. They engage team members. They get buy-in. And they’re willing to let someone else think a great idea was their idea. Great leaders help team members to discover things on their own. A team member who does something because he believes in it is much more committed to the outcome than someone who just does what he’s told.
3. How much time do you spend listening to your team? Your team members will observe things that you don’t. If you don’t listen to them you miss out on key intelligence. And team members who feel they are listened to are much more motivated. Don’t underestimate the power of project “ownership.”
4. Do you include the perspective of others in your decision-making? Listening to your team is critical, but actually implementing their ideas and observations takes things to a whole different level. This is tough because you are still ultimately responsible for the decisions. But putting trust in your team really pays dividends in terms of building their confidence and loyalty.
5. What percentage of your time is spent on strategic thinking as opposed to tactical execution? I’m not sure there is a “correct” formula for calculating this. But what’s important is that you make sure to spend adequate time thinking through what you want to accomplish and what specific steps will get you where you want to go. You’ve heard people talk about “working on their business instead of working in their business.” That’s what strategic planning is all about. Otherwise you can get so wrapped up in the daily details that you miss the big picture.
Bonus Tip: I promised you a bonus tip about making sure you have a clear vision that you can communicate to your team. Lots of businesses have mission statements and value statements. They spend hours, days, even weeks developing these. But they are often overwritten, full of in-house jargon, and very difficult to pass on to someone else. Focus instead on a very clear and concise explanation of your unique value proposition. What does your company do, and what is it about the way you do it that makes your company different—and valuable (useful to the end user)? If you can’t do this in 15 seconds or less you probably don’t have a good grasp on your unique value proposition. And if you don’t—how in the world can you explain it to others? Try it yourself. Then try it with your team. This is key to communicating the vision that will drive your company to success.