Good Leaders May Think It; Great Leaders Know It, But Ask It Anyway
There are few guarantees in life. But in over 25 years of experiencing leadership at large established Blue Chip companies, Silicon Valley startups, regional offices around the world, and seeing a few "Is this legal?" enterprises, there have been a score of moderately good leaders and only a few really great ones. 100% - every single time - the good ones don't even think to ask; the great leaders always ask one simple question.
"How Am I Doing?"
Great leaders consistently question their teams and organizations with this one straightforward question. It doesn't matter if it is a variation of those exact words, or if asked as "Como lo estoy haciendo?" or "Wie mache ich?" or "Wǒ gāi zěnme zuò?" - a great leader seeks feedback from a myriad of sources.
Sounds Simple Enough . . .
That simple question should spark a discussion from the team, the organizations, and the peer group. It will - hopefully - lead to open dialogue about the needs of the team, what is working, and what isn't. Just asking the question and getting a "You are doing great?" is not enough. The follow-on "Why, How, Where, When?" questions will lead you to the answers you need.
Isn't Asking A Weakness?
Good leaders won't ask for plenty of reasons, but one of them is that they don't want to hear the answer (or maybe they don't care, which is even worse.) They assume that the act of asking the question is a sign of weakness; that they should always know what to do and should have all the answers. Conversely, a great leader knows their limitations and seeks counsel to overcome them.
One of the toughest - and could be argued scariest - leaders of the modern era was General George S. Patton. During World War II, while good leaders sat back in command centers, General Patton spent time talking to his troops, lead up front with them, and was keenly aware of his limitations. Would he have walked up to a random solider for their feedback and asked for a sit down? Not likely. But, in his own way and in his own language, actively sought information and feedback to make smarter decisions.
The Question Helps You See Around Corners
Every leader has blindspots; some are better with people, others with numbers. Some are great with strategy, others with tactics. But no one is the perfect leader. Asking for feedback, and seeking information will help you overcome your weaknesses and make smarter decisions by connecting the dots well before anyone else.
We may be born with leadership qualities, but great leadership requires hard work, introspection, and constant feedback.
Don't agree? I welcome your feedback (see what I did there?)