4 Questions Every Leader Needs to Answer | Part 1

by Mark Sanborn

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“Questions are the creative acts of intelligence.” — Frank Kindgon

Are you a leader on autopilot? You’re aware of what you do each day, but you’re not sure why you do it. You wonder if you’ll have the energy to face the next big leadership challenge, or you feel like you haven’t grown much in the past several years. Maybe you lack role models or mentors to help you in your journey.

Does that describe you?

Much of leadership is done at the tactical level. The focus is on the “what” — what to do, what problems to solve and what opportunities to pursue.

Why? How? Who? These are the harder questions leader ask. And the hardest of those questions are the ones that go deepest, that get to the heart and soul of leadership. They are both philosophical and strategic, and they provide more important insight.

Leadership, like life, can be spent skimming along the surface. It can be difficult if not painful to dig deeper into the motivations and philosophies that make leadership meaningful. But that is the work that is required for the rich rather than the cheap experience.

If you want to go deeper and further in your leadership experience, here are four questions you need to answer:

Why do I want to lead?

Aspiring leaders — students and ambitious employees — call me regularly to ask me for advice on how to lead. Before I answer, I ask them: Why do you want to lead?

The “why?” should always precede the “what?” and “how to.”

If you don’t have a compelling reason to lead, others probably won’t have a compelling reason to follow.

There are many reasons to pursue leadership. Unfortunately, wanting to be a leader isn’t enough. Leading — doing the work of leadership — is much harder than having the title of “leader.” You can be elected the president of a club, but if it rarely meets and you invest little effort, you aren’t really leading. True leadership isn’t about status, but results; it isn’t what you’re called, but what you do.

A clear leadership purpose creates three payoffs:

  1. It motivates. A higher purpose is the fuel for your leadership efforts. Goals alone don’t motivate you; purpose propels.
  2. It focuses. You have a sense of priorities, avoid distractions and don’t waste time on those things that don’t serve that greater purpose.
  3. It provides resilience. Purpose creates staying power when you meet resistance. Lacking a compelling purpose, many fold when they encounter difficulties and setbacks. Purpose creates leaders that last.

What kind of leader do I want to be?

I believe the principles of good leadership never change, but they can and are applied uniquely by different leaders. Substance is a given for effective leadership but style is a personal choice. Have you given any thought to the kind of leader you want to be?

Authenticity is about being who you appear to be. It is congruence between public presentation and perception and personal beliefs and behaviors.

Steve Jobs was famous for his intense focus on product. When you think of Mother Theresa, you think of her love for people. The founders of Hewlett-Packard created an amazing process and it became known as the HP Way. And when it comes to profit, there are many contemporary leaders to choose from. It wasn’t that any of these examples focused exclusively on these areas (with the arguable exception of Jobs), but that while all were leaders of great substance, their style and legacy were a result of the kind of leader they chose to be.

What unites all these different types of leaders? Their ability to create results. Style never replaces substance, but it has the power to leverage or diminish it.

Choose what kind of leader you desire to be and craft it carefully.

*This blog originally appeared at MarkSanborn.com.


Mark SanbornMark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.