Wednesday, December 9, 2009

3 Questions To Ask A Leader

The more you study leadership, the more you realize that leadership has more questions than answers. There are literally thousands of books that you can read about what leadership is, the qualities of a great leader, and even the official “laws of leadership”. And while there are a variety of styles of leadership, most of these books say the same things in slightly different ways. Because there really aren’t any new ideas in leadership, just new presentations of ideas that have been around for thousands of years.

As much as many of us lead, we are also followers. We follow a boss at work or a minister at church. We may even follow a friend in our social life, taking the lead from them as to what music we listen to, what TV shows we watch and what books to read. As a student of leadership I find that I have certain authors or experts that I tend to follow and others that I don’t. Some of this comes down to their style of leadership, or the way they present their thoughts. Some of their material resonates with me, other material sounds contrived and insincere.

This whole process of being a follower got me thinking about the basics of leadership. I thought back to the leaders that I had been associated with in my career. Some of those were exceptional leaders that I took pride in following. In some way these leaders inspired me. Others were leaders in name only. They failed to inspire me. I only followed these leaders because I had to, and frankly did as little as possible to support them. Sometimes I had a choice as to which leader to follow. Other times, I was given an assignment and the leader was already in place.

Why did I follow certain leaders, but not others? Thinking back I found that these exceptional leaders had some traits in common that made me want to follow them. I didn’t recognize these traits so much at the time, but in retrospect it is clear that if I could have asked my potential leaders some questions I would have known up front whether or not they would qualify as exceptional leaders.

Here are the three questions I would have asked:

Where are you going?

How will you get there?

Why should I trust you?

The first question is a question of vision. If you are to lead me, where will you lead me? Do you have a destination in mind? Do you know what you are trying to accomplish? Am I able to buy into this vision as something that I find good and meaningful? How will we know when we have arrived?

That may sound like a lot of questions built into one, and it is. But a good response to the question of “Where are you going?” would not only build confidence in the followers, but serve as guidepost for our decisions.

The second question is much more tactical. “How will you get there?” tells me about your value systems, what you believe is important, and your style of leadership. Do you believe that you will pick us up on your shoulders and carry us to our destination? Or will we work together as a team, utilizing all of the resources available to us to achieve our objectives. If you thought that you could carry us there on your own, I knew that you did not value your team members, would not seek counsel or advice, and would be inclined to make mistakes of omission in the process. To me, the question of “How will you get there?” was as important if not more important than the question of “Where are you going?”

Lastly, I would want to know what this leader is going to do to demonstrate to me that I should trust them. Any discussion about trust always starts with what a person says. But more important than what a person says is what a person does. Trust does not come from your words, but from your actions. Tell me I should trust you and I will pause in thought. Show me I can trust you and I will follow you.

These are the three questions that I would want to ask anyone who might be a potential leader for me. What three questions would you ask?

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Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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