Some of you have been at this leadership business a long time. Some of you are just beginning. Some have one toe in and one toe out, skeptical about the promise you hear from executive coaches like me about what self-awareness, humanity, and honesty will give you in an oft harsh and unforgiving business climate.
I get it. I don’t have all of the answers. None of us do. Business is changing more rapidly, in more complex ways, across more diverse cultures, than ever before in human history. Our thought leaders are panting to keep up.
As we plow through the data for trends, best practices, and insights for leaders like you, here is what I can promise.
I promise that I will pass along great, powerful questions—questions that get you to think bigger, feel differently, and produce previously inaccessible results. In my experience, the questions you ask are much more important than the answers you find.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
As I’ve worked with hundreds of business leaders across healthcare, private equity, energy, and technology industries, a pattern has emerged in question asking that I want to share with you. That is, I’ve noticed that there are two fundamental inquiries that benefit every leader, often over and over again:
- What do I need?
- What am I responsible for?
The first question, “What do I need?” creates space for genuine ways of working with others. It provides the fuel for healthy collaboration. When we’re aware of what we need to feel “whole,” we can appropriately meet our needs and communicate openly with others in a way that builds strong trust. We can show up fully charged and emotionally balanced. (Read: you can save yourself from the inevitable “too emotional, too late” outburst that goes hand in hand with being sacrificial beyond your boundaries.) Consider this question, private and self-compassionate, as critical preventative maintenance. This question alone will enable and sustain your best leadership performance.
And, it allows us to give to others from a genuine place—not because we have to, not because we want to get something in return, but because we are in good enough shape to give to our colleagues/organizations. We can support others from our natural energy source without sacrificing our own wellbeing, depleting stretched resources, or resenting those who didn’t ask it of us in the first place.
Leaders, until you know what your needs are—and how to meet them—you can’t effectively serve your people.
The question “What am I responsible for?” moves us from feeling stuck and defeated to being in charge of our circumstances. When we can own our behavior, mindset, and beliefs that contribute to a difficult situation or conflict, we can take powerful action. We can respond maturely instead of reacting as a victim. This moves us into a solution (and mental freedom, or psychic autonomy) more rapidly, the very thing we’re seeking all along.
Often, asking ourselves what we might be able to take responsibility for—even beyond the obvious—empowers a shift away from blame and into intentional choice. We all want to feel in control of our destiny. This inquiry allows you to claim it.
Needs = A hierarchy of human needs to survive, then thrive, within our environments.
Responsibility = Choosing accountability for all the ways we contribute to our external circumstances, productively and unproductively, intentionally or not.
You’ll often hear me say that self-awareness is just the first step on our path to transformative leading. The next and most misunderstood step to master is self-management. Let these two questions become your mantra and they will carry you far, both in coaching and beyond.
To your greatness…