To Question or To Answer: What Does a Great Leader Do?

A common fallacy is that great leaders never have to ask questions – they inherently have all the answers.

But authentic leaders know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Impactful Leaders Realize the Power in Asking Questions

Jim Schleckser writing in Inc. compared a leader’s capacity to answer every question directed to them to that of a switchboard operator, trying to make the right connections to solve all the organization’s issues. And that, he says, not only limits leadership, but limits the organization’s growth as well.

Bold, impactful leaders know the tremendous power in asking questions. By asking the right questions, team members learn to strategize on their own to solve issues. And in this discovery, they strengthen their ability to figure out problems and heighten their self-esteem in the process: and that’s a win-win situation for growth and expansion.

“Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more.”

-John C. Maxwell

But there are times when leaders must ask questions – not only as part of personal growth, but of leadership growth as well.

And what are the common questions successful leaders oftentimes ask?

Most Leaders Will Relate to These Common Questions

As a Forbes Coaches Council Expert Panel wrote, there’s no shame in a successful business professional asking questions. Yet some leaders feel embarrassed and conflicted, realizing that others look to them for answers.

The Council discovered oftentimes many leaders question the same issues. Among the most commonly asked questions leaders faced:

  1. What do I do now? Leaders often ask this when their companies are flourishing, as they ponder the future.
  2. What do I need to change? Everyone realizes how difficult change is. Authentic leaders accept (and welcome) change when necessary to achieve strategic goals.
  3. Is it normal to feel like an imposter? Many leaders feel that others see inflated images of their abilities. Imposter syndrome is all too common.
  4. What if I don’t have all the answers? Appearing to have all the answers makes some leaders feel invulnerable. True leaders know they don’t have the answers to all questions…no one does.
  5. Is self-doubt normal? As the Forbes Council noted, all leaders have their own self-doubts – and think they’re the only ones who do. Not so. It’s a part of being human.
  6. How do I respond to sexist comments? Many leaders admit to being caught off guard and wish they had been better prepared.

Most leaders will be able to relate to these questions.

The realization that other successful leaders have the same internal dialogue may better enable us to reach out to others and share thoughts and reflections. The result? Deeper, more meaningful partnerships built on authenticity.

Creating Effective Dialogue in the New Virtual Reality

Whether it’s asking questions or providing answers, many regular face-to-face meetings have been replaced by a virtual environment as part of the new era of social distancing. For some, it’s an awkward way of communication.

Melissa Raffoni writing in Harvard Business Review notes that not only is it more difficult to ‘read’ people via on-line meetings, but distractions can easily pull people’s attention away in many different directions. All is not lost, Reffoni says – it’s a matter of requiring new skills, whether a bit of technical know-how or re-thinking strategy.

She offers 5 questions to ask as we lead in the new virtual environment:

  1. Are we being strategic enough?
  2. How up to date are our communication plans?
  3. Review employee responsibilities in the new virtual environment: some people may thrive online; others need more support. Are our employees thriving on-line? If not, what do they need to flourish?
  4. How well are we focusing – and communicating – about the big picture?
  5. How can we further strengthen company culture?

Raffoni quotes Michael Porter from “What Is Strategy?”: “New [strategic] positions open up because of change…new needs emerge as societies evolve.”

Here’s a tip: Not all questions need to be directed outward. Most impactful leaders realize the importance of self-reflection, of time spent alone asking ourselves key questions. This can be a deep, profoundly insightful way to learn more about ourselves and how we interpret our experiences.

We all realize now that there is a new normal in life as a result of the pandemic. What is that new normal? It’s a realization that there isn’t one. What a paradox, right?

Bold leaders realize that there isn’t just one new normal, ask meaningful questions, seek impactful answers, and through their resilience, adapt to new ways of doing business. Today, may we all ask the important questions to spark great change.

“The little girl who asks, “Why is the sky blue?” becomes the woman who changes the world.”

-Sheryl Sandberg

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Resilience is a Secret Superpower for Leaders to Navigate Adversity

The new year 2020 barely got started and suddenly the world was thrust into pandemic panic. None of us had been there before.

Our personal lives were determined by the new norm of social distancing and economically, businesses scrambled to meet demands that strained their resources. It was traumatizing.

And now, nearly six months later, we are getting back on our feet. We have faced that our old, cherished routines are history. We are tiptoeing into new territory.

And how we got through the tumult – and are continuing to adjust to our new lives – taught us an important lesson: no one really knows what is going to happen next. But how we adapt, how we survive and thrive, is linked to our resiliency, that ability to bounce back from difficult times and move forward.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

― Steve Maraboli

Resiliency: It’s an Individual Trait. And It’s Key to Leadership.

Leaders are facing unprecedented times as their leadership skills are tested daily…moment by moment, even.

Now more than ever, resilience is key to impactful leadership. How well we can navigate adversity – especially in these times – has lasting impacts on not only ourselves, but on the people and organizations we lead.

How resilient we are is tied to our past, the experts say. Eilene Zimmerman writes in the New York Times that every study done in the past half century shows that one significant factor impacts our resilience in life: our personal relationships, especially with parents and primary caregivers, and the quality of that bond.

Zimmerman quoted Boston University School of Medicine professor of psychiatry Bessel van der Kolk, who has been researching post-traumatic stress disorder for nearly 50 years. “How loved you felt as a child is a great predictor of how you manage all kinds of difficult situations later in life,” stated van der Kolk, who suggests the first 20 years of life are especially critical.

Leading Effectively During Challenging Times

Essentially, resilience is a set of skills that is often learned, writes Zimmerman. Professor emeritus of psychiatry, PTSD and Resilience at Yale University School of Medicine Steven M. Southwick explains that stress is not all bad:

“If you can cope today with all that’s happening in the world around you, then when you are on the other side of it, you’ll be stronger.”

-Dr. Steven M. Southwick

Leading is a privilege, writes Dede Henley in Forbes. And with the world still adjusting to the new world that the pandemic birthed, leaders need to navigate through the myriad of dynamics presented in this new way of life.

BOLD Leaders, This is Our Time to Shine.

Our resiliency will determine how well we can lead others through these demanding times. As Henley notes, people are looking to see how leaders react and respond. They are waiting for their leaders to lead by example.

According to Zimmerman, highly resilient people share common traits:

  • a strong moral compass
  • accept what they cannot change & focus on what they can
  • positive, realistic outlooks
  • belief in a higher power
  • have a concern for others
  • find a meaning in life
  • are part of a support system

In his research, Dr. Southwick found that many resilient people don’t keep banging their head against the wall – they accept what they can’t change and work to do what is in their sphere of influence. His studies with former prisoners of war found that despite their immense suffering, they went on to find new meaning in their lives.

To Lead BOLDLY in Unprecedented Times…

Henley lists his five suggestions for effective collaboration:

  1. Trust and respect are vital – especially during these times. Be available and empathize with what others are experiencing.
  2. Meet with your team and share your meaning, your purpose together. Explain your “why” to increase awareness of what matters.
  3. Learn by mistakes. Instead of judgements, make corrections and find even better ways to approach problems.
  4. Leverage the power of gratitude. Let your team know how much they are appreciated.
  5. Sharpen physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual competencies. Observe the health of those around you. Intellectually, confirm the information and data you are given. Emotionally, don’t resist fear or unhappiness, both of which are natural and often, necessary to growth. Spiritually, discover what brings you peace & joy – and take time for that as often as you can.

The pages of our human history often note centuries of tragedies and difficult times. And yet, there are countless stories of hope and survival and new meanings.

The pages we are writing today will someday be in the history books. What legacy will your leadership leave?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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Self Care: A Necessary Requirement for BOLD Leaders

Self-care. Many of us have heard that term so many times, we don’t attach any particular significance to it anymore.

Yet, in the wake of a global pandemic and the tumultuous times that have become our “new normal,” self-care is more important than ever before – for leaders, for those we lead, and for every single person in the world.

Self-Care Is Like a Healing Balm for the Soul

Unless we are dutifully mindful of ourselves, we can become ensnared in an “I have to do it all” mantra at work…and overly engaged with the digital world. We act – and react – to the world around us at a frenzied pace, often short circuiting and depleting ourselves.

Most of us have been in that frantic, frenetic and furious hamster wheel at times. And we discover we’re running as fast as we can – but getting nowhere.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

-Anne Lamott

Unplugging from it all – taking time for ourselves – is a healing balm for our bodies – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Working remote? Back in the office? A little bit of both? Take a few minutes out to explore how a few simple self-care strategies can help us lead with greater ease, clarity, and confidence.

Just What is Self-Care?

Amy Jen Su summed up self-care in Harvard Business Review: “self-care is your relationship and connection to self.…it means that you’re attuned to and understand what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self.”  Self-care is more than just physically taking care of ourselves. It means maintaining and enhancing our whole being.

Really, self-care is about so much more than physical health. Su notes we need to pay attention to more of our whole selves – our emotions, relationships, and our mind. “Self-care flows from an intention to stay connected to oneself and one’s overall mission.”

Not practicing self-care and living with stress depletes us. Researchers David B. Ross, Julie A. Exposito and Tom Kennedy wrote in Stress and Its Relationship to Leadership and a Healthy Workplace Culture, that leaders under stress for an extended time can experience negative consequences, such as inability to make decisions, making emotionally based decisions, or lack of listening.

We must get over the idea that self-care is selfish. It isn’t. How can we be there for anyone else if we are not there for ourselves? And we must stop saying that we don’t have time for self-care. We do.

“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax.”

― Matt Haig

Achieve More as a Leader With Self Care

Erin Urban wrote in Forbes of a senior executive who discovered that when he let life pull him to the breaking point, it hurt his career. “You cannot give what you do not have,” he shared. “Fortunately, it didn’t take long to realize that investing in self-care allows me to achieve more as a leader.”

Here are some practical, actionable strategies to weave self-care into your workday – whether you’re working remote or back in the office – or a little bit of both…

A few simple suggestions by Erin Urban can start us on a self-care mission:

  1. Set boundaries. Learn to say no.
  2. Ditch the perfectionist attitude.
  3. Leverage the power of delegation.

Following those suggestions, Urban says to take time to refuel ourselves…

  1. Do one thing that will bring joy and recharge those batteries.
  2. Just breathe…become aware of the breath.
  3. Go outside, be at one with nature, take a walk.
  4. Practice gratitude and kindness.

Strengthen Leadership Through Effective Self-Care

The National Conference for College Women Student Leaders offers practical tips to strengthen leadership through self-care. Topping their suggestion? Getting rid of the notion that we can do it all.

And, perhaps just as important, learn to delegate. Delegating challenges our teams and gives us some free time to refresh and refocus…a win-win. Make sure self-care is a part of this extra time.

While a focus on the “we” is crucial to impactful leadership, “me” time is vital too. Try to take a brief time each evening, to relax and refuel. It can be as simple as just closing your eyes and concentrating on your breathing.

We can also emphasize gratitude – it is a gift that keeps on giving – the more gratitude we have, the more goodness comes our way.

This one is really important, especially in our new era of Zoom calls & a new, more intense digital connection. We must consciously choose to disconnect from the 24-7 digital world of news and social media and work responsibilities. Bask in the solitude, allowing your body the ultimate self-care it so deserves.

It is so important to take time for yourself and find clarity:

“The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.”

-Diane Von Furstenberg

Solitude indeed is a golden gift. In the silence, we nourish ourselves. We learn about ourselves. We discover things that may have gone overlooked in the noise of everyday life.

Spending time in the silence allows us to return to our work refreshed, restored, having treated our complete selves to the ultimate self-care therapy: solitude.

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The Value of Worthiness in Leadership

We have all experienced the same agonizing conflict within ourselves: are we good enough?

How confident are we in ourselves and in our abilities – or does self-doubt cloud our vision?

Even Sheryl Sandberg Struggled with Self-Doubt

Sheryl Sandberg admitted to having self-doubt, but listening to Dr. Peggy McIntosh inspired her to reach beyond her personal misgivings. McIntosh offered that self-doubt is not an accurate reflection of a person’s potential.

Sandberg says that from that point on, she told herself: “I don’t have to feel so confident, but I have to take my seat at the table anyway.”

If we doubt ourselves and our self-worth, how can we effectively lead and inspire others?

Now more than ever, our world needs strong, courageous, BOLD leaders who are not only rooted in a sense of their own self-worth – but who can see the value in all those they lead.

Self-doubt and a lack of self-worth can sabotage any leader, because with these blocks they hold themselves back from being and doing all that they can. This thereby prevents them from experiencing higher levels of impact and fulfillment.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

— Jim Rohn

How Can Leaders Overcome Self-Doubt?

We don’t, says Margie Warrell, writing in Forbes. “What we do is learn how to reclaim the power it has held over us.”

All of us have had the “I don’t think I can do that” battle within ourselves. At times, however, a little self-doubt can serve us well as we go through this journey called life. But as with anything, if we let our doubts direct our lives, then we miss out on the successes and the fulfillment that might have been achieved.

Warrell shares her own experiences with self-doubt. Yearning to write a book, instead of tackling the job, she mentally rehearsed all the reasons she couldn’t: she never studied writing, couldn’t remember where apostrophes went, and was a busy mom to four children under the age of 7.

It was her husband who asked her the motivating question: “Why don’t you give yourself permission to write an imperfect book?”

So she did. And she learned to reclaim the power her doubt held over her. She suggests some great ways to accomplish that:

  1. Embrace doubt as part of being human
  2. Doubt your doubts (they’re not the truth)
  3. Make your goal larger than your fear
  4. Build a ladder of smaller, manageable goals first

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

― William Shakespeare

Many Leaders Secretly Harbor Self-Doubt

Publicly, many leaders are charismatic, results-driven, motivational, inspire success in others…and a host of other valuable traits.

But deep within, anxieties lurk, says Maryanne Mooney, writing in YPO. In coaching sessions, many leaders admit to harboring self-doubts secretly and suffering from anxious thoughts about their ability to continually succeed.  This has certainly been the case with many of the leaders I have worked with, as well.

She cites an example: A young CEO in a global tech business is wildly successful. Yet he admits to anxieties, fearing he may not be the person to take the company forward. He asks himself if he has what it takes or if someone else might do a better job. Many of us can relate to that.

Mooney defines self-belief:

“Self-belief is an unassuming, calm, accurate understanding of one’s wherewithal to meet current and future challenges.”

She compares it to a tree battered by a storm: although it sways in a storm, its deep roots anchor it firmly in the ground.

And so it is with a BOLD, worthy leader: Believing in ourselves allows our leadership abilities to shine through despite the storms of life. Self-belief boosts our confidence and increases our resiliency to meet current challenges – and the inevitable future ones.

“Your business growth is tied to your personal growth. There is no business strategy that can make up for a lack of worthiness in the leader of that business.”

– Eleanor Beaton

Vulnerable leadership is more than going it alone

Are You Worthy of Your Leadership?

But what about the concept of worthiness in leadership? Simply because someone heads up an organization doesn’t designate them a true leader. So much more constitutes a leader other than just a title: honesty, humility, courageousness, a willingness to think outside the box, resilience, and many other solid traits make up a true, bold leader.

Bryan Evje writing in Inc. cites a few questions we can ask ourselves in determining our true worthiness in our leadership roles. A few are:

  1. Are we leading for our own personal gains, or for a shared purpose?
  2. In times of uncertainty or fears, how do we respond?
  3. Do we lead others to be the best they can be?

Evje cites poet David Whyte who understood the value of fear: “It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with: it is the mother of the thing you fear.”

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How do we typically respond when we encounter a complex situation to which we haven’t yet discovered an answer?
  • When a crisis hits, how do we usually respond? Why is that?
  • Is our leadership style the same in a routine situation as it is in a crisis mode? If not, what’s different?

Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them.

How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.
-Judy Blume

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Inclusion Isn’t Just Another Leadership Buzzword. It’s Essential.

Now, perhaps more than at any other time in our world’s history, inclusive leaders aren’t just “good for business” – they’re essential to create thriving organizations where everyone feels valued.

“Inclusive leadership is about recognizing and valuing diversity or difference, and valuing people, recognizing them for their skills, experience and talent, and treating them equally and fairly – irrespective of their ethnic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, or of any disability they may have.” 

-Moorvia Gooden

Inclusion. However much it’s been used particularly recently, it’s not just a buzzword. It’s a value to be lived and expanded throughout the organization.

And it shouldn’t be simply glossed over as a “nice-to-have”, fluffy concept. Not only does inclusion have immense positive value in our world, but it’s an important business strategy, too. Study after study reveals the enhanced performance of employees when they feel included, valued, and respected.

A Harvard Business Review article by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido cites the benefits of inclusivity as a business practice.

Teams with Inclusive Leaders Report Many Benefits:

-17% higher performance

-Teams are 29% more likely to behave in a collaborative manner

-20% report more high-quality decisions

Inclusion even improves employee absenteeism rates, too, which is an obvious benefit to organizations large and small. And the list of positives goes on and on…

Given all these benefits, BOLD leaders recognize the importance of inclusive leadership. After all, doesn’t everyone yearn to be included? It’s a human need to feel a part of something. When we were kids, most of us wanted to feel like we ‘fit in.’

It’s no different for us as adults. When we feel included, we feel valued. We feel like we have something unique to bring to the table. It also helps us to see the value others bring, too.

Yet, a study in Harvard Business Review explained that even though businesses spend nearly 8 billion dollars annually on inclusion and diversity trainings, 40% of employees say they still feel isolated at work.

So, what’s needed?  Effective inclusive leadership.

Effective Leaders Must Be Inclusive

Inclusive leaders embrace diversity, encourage collaboration between all employees, and manifest a sense of caring about everyone. It’s a commitment to the belief that everyone is unique and has something to offer.

What traits make up an inclusive leader? An article in Harvard Business Review cited six behaviors that are characteristic of inclusive leaders:

  1. Cultural intelligence
  2. Humility
  3. Interest in others
  4. Outward Commitment
  5. Display an awareness of biases
  6. Focus on team cohesion

The article also cited specific responses by employees praising inclusive leaders such as:

“[This leader] will openly ask about information that she is not aware of. She demonstrates a humble unpretentious work manner. This puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions, which she values.”

“[This leader] has taken the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, likes/dislikes) and the cultural pillars.”

The non-inclusive leader was also noted by employees:

“[This leader] can have very set ideas on specific topics. Sometimes it is difficult to get an alternative view across. There is a risk that his team may hold back from bringing forward challenging and alternative points of view.”

As a BOLD leader, where do you see yourself? (Be really honest.)

The Path to Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Listening to constructive criticism can be challenging for some, but effective leaders realize the importance of knowing how their employees perceive them.

When looking to ensure an inclusive work environment, Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido write in Harvard Business Review that forming a diverse advisory board is helpful. Composed of peers a leader is comfortable speaking with, important day-to-day feedback on just how inclusive a leader is can be discussed. A leader can learn if their inclusion efforts are effective.

Bourke and Espedido also suggest leaders share their stories on the road to inclusion: by letting others know what they’ve learned, it can be a role model to help others as well.

Placing themselves in uncomfortable situations is also an effective way for leaders to learn inclusive tactics. Sitting in with a diverse group, hearing comments and answering questions can be a valuable learning tool.

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”

-Doris Kearns Goodwin

Why Become an Inclusive Leader?

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends research, 78% of people believe inclusion and diversity provides a competitive advantage. Research also showed 69% of executives felt diversity & inclusion to be important issues.

Ryan Jennings, writing in Inc. cites reasons for becoming an inclusive leader:

  1. The diversity of our workforce is increasing
  2. Diverse companies outperform competition
  3. Our world is connected by technology, which can unite a global workforce
  4. Diversity unleashes the creative flow, encouraging innovation

Studies consistently highlight the benefits of inclusion in the workplace. It’s a win-win situation:  employees feel better, perform their tasks more efficiently, absenteeism decreases, productivity increases. With an increasingly diverse workforce – whether racial, ethnic, age or gender differences – inclusivity just makes sense.

As a BOLD leader, are you promoting and embracing an inclusive workforce? The outcome of your organization depends on it…

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

— Sundar Pichai

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