Leaders are expected not only to lead others successfully, but also to lead themselves in particular. An important contribution to this is the ability to honestly question oneself. Learn in this newsletter how you can achieve this easily and effectively.
It is not uncommon for clients to associate “questioning oneself” with a request to examine the value of their existence and actions deeply and fundamentally. This may be appropriate, but it can by no means become a daily routine. The following three questions are much better suited for this.
What is important to me?
This question appeals to your costume of values and your standards. Do you want to have integrity? Prudent? Just? Whatever it is, make yourself honestly aware of it. Because these values serve as your orientation in confusing or complex situations, and they help you form opinions and make decisions. Where you are today is ultimately the sum of all your decisions and non-decisions. So if you are not sure what is important to you, look at your past and ask yourself two simple questions: a) Who am I? And b) Why am I here? Thanks to the first question you will recognize who you are today, what makes you or distinguishes you. And the second question directs you to your decisions and thus to your motives, which in turn point to values. In the end, there is no specification of what should be important to you. But companies expect you to behave in a way that is consistent with your role, function or responsibilities. The more this represents your own values, the easier you will act. If not, you will bend every day, which is proven to make you unhappy or even sick. So, if you don’t find enough in your work what is important to yourself, this work will give you little meaning, which will eventually affect your motivation, creativity and joy. If the two questions above seem too complex for you, do a quick test: Look in the mirror every evening while brushing your teeth: Can you stand by yourself, your decisions, your behavior? If not, then you are probably not doing what is actually important to you. And in doing so, you are influencing the environment of the employees in a way that does not really suit you. You are bending. Make sure that this situation remains an exception.
What should I learn?
Successful leaders are not afraid to learn new things proactively. They know that they do not understand many things and want to improve themselves and their decisions. They do not follow tips blindly, but look at new things critically. They are particularly interested in whether and how the new things affect their previous assumptions (and future decisions). That’s why they want to understand how others “see the world” and what assumptions they make - in short, they consciously put themselves in the shoes of others in order to gain new perspectives, to recognize new connections, to learn new things. First, to overcome their own limitations based on their previous assumptions. Second, to understand whether they themselves are the reason why others (have to) make limiting assumptions. It is this last perspective that I count as system learning, i.e. the examination of relationships and dynamics in a system. Because in it we are always both influencing and influenced elements. In your role as a leader, you are probably more the former - and for that very reason should always remain open to identify your (hidden, unconscious or even unintended) impact. A helpful discipline for this is listening to learn rather than correcting or winning (see Newsletter No. 3; January 2021). If you can’t find any clues right now about what you should currently be learning, just type in a keyword on YouTube (or other platforms) that dominates your daily life today and then skim the list of results. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.
What contribution can I make now?
Focus on what you can actually and immediately contribute, influence or decide - whether that is a more operational measure that will be implemented within a week or a strategic initiative that will span the next 12 months. Successful leaders pursue their contribution regardless of how costly, complex, uncertain or painful it may seem - simply because it is the right thing to do. In doing so, they are guided not by selfish motives (how can I use this situation to my advantage?) but rather by altruistic ones (what is the best I can do for the organization in my role and function?). Especially the answers to the question before (“What should I learn?”) provides helpful hints in this regard.
Of course, they do not make their contribution exclusively personally or directly, but usually create conditions and resources that are necessary for this contribution. In most cases, these are then to be saved elsewhere, which probably does not suit everyone and can lead to resistance. It is therefore all the more important that they understand exactly why or to what end they are making their contribution, what open potentials they want to realize with it, what added value it creates and why this contribution is significant right now.
If you are unclear about what contribution you are actually making, conduct the following thought experiment: “What would no longer be possible in the company, in a particular organizational unit, or in a project if you no longer existed in your role, function, and responsibility?” Don’t settle for the simple answer that ultimately anyone and everyone is replaceable, but dig deeper: what important and specific contributions would actually be eliminated? If you don’t find an answer or if there is hardly any connection to your answer to the first question (“What is important to me?”), then you should make a personal location assessment.
Conclusion: With three questions you can effectively question yourself in everyday leadership: If you know what is important to you, what you should learn and what contribution you should focus on, you consciously control your actions - take your formative responsibility as a leader.