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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #54: Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader

September 12, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #54: Questions I Ask Myself as a Leader

The longer we are leaders, the more complacent we tend to get and the more unaware of ourselves we tend to become. We can break out of that tendency by heightening our self-awareness as leaders, and we do that by asking ourselves questions. In Episode #54 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we challenge you to better yourself as a leader by asking yourself 5 key questions.

To cultivate leadership development on your team, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

Read Transcript Below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. As we begin today, there’s something that I want to bring to your attention at the John Maxwell Company, we do several public 5 Levels of Leadership workshops a year. We have a couple coming up in October, one in Dallas and one in Atlanta, and we would love to have you join us there. If that is something that you are interested in, then please go to johnmaxwellcompany.com/workshops, and you can see all of the information right there on that site. Also, just as a reminder, if you would just like to learn more about the 5 Levels methodology or even bring a private workshop to your organization, you can visit johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast. If you have a question or want to leave a comment, please do so, and Perry and I would love to respond. 

Well, today’s topic is titled “Questions I Need to Ask Myself as a Leader”, and I threw the word “need” in there because I think these are some things we really do need to consider asking ourselves. And we’ve talked about this in the past. It’s a big topic for John; he wrote an entire book on it, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. We’re going to pull some content from John’s book today. But I really kind of like where we’re going with this one. 

Yes. It’s big for me as well. It meant a lot to me personally when I became a first-line manager. It was the questions that John posed in his teaching, the way he mentored me through books and recordings over those years that I still apply my leadership today. So, let’s go through some questions. I’d love to get your ideas on this. This first question really struck me: “am I investing in myself?” John called that a personal growth question. 

I want to add on to this personal growth question on the front end, coming from a professional standpoint. Leaders, listen to me: the business will get better when you get better. We always are dealing with C-suite people making decisions about investing, and at the end of the conversation, it always comes back to how it will affect their financials. I want to challenge you to believe that it starts with you. If someone isn’t going to bet on themselves, why would I ever want to invest in them? We call it a self-selection process, and in some of our corporate training and consulting we’ll allow team members to self-select into a personal growth journey when it comes to leadership development. Those are the ones that you want to add a little bit of fuel on top of that flame to help them grow. It also makes me think of The Law of the Lid. Not only is your business going to get better, but your team is going to get better when you begin to lift the lid on your growth and on your personal development.

One last comment⁠—we attract who we are, not who we want. When we get the opportunity to hire somebody onto our team, we’re like, man, I’m going after this rock star. Well, if you sell them to join your team, they won’t stay long. You need to make sure that you’re developing yourself because you’re going to attract those that are like you. 

What I learned from John was that if I found myself wanting to change my circumstances, change the environment, change this and thatwhat I need to change is me. We’re so quick to change the conditions but not change ourselves. It’s been a pillar of my life since I learned this truth: you cannot give what you do not have. You’ve gotta be pouring into yourself so you can pour into others. That’s the entire mission of your leadership: pouring into others so that you engage them, influence them, and drive outcomes and results, together, as a team. But it all starts with you. You’ve got to lead you first, or the people watching you are not going to buy into you, which means they’re not going to buy into your business. There’s so much to be said about how you do that. But let’s move on. Question number twowhich really spoke to meis “am I genuinely interested in others?” John called this the question of motivation. 

This really tells you a lot about the motives of a leader. I’ve heard some say that we all have a good reason and then we have a real reason. What it boils down to is the question, what is the motive is behind those reasons? Motives absolutely matter. You need to make sure that you are genuinely interested in others. John saysand I think this is great“questioning your motives is not the same as questioning your character.” Then he unpacks it a little bit more. He “if you have poor character, then you probably have poor motives.” He goes, “However, just because you have a good, solid character, you can still fall prey to poor motives.” I was like, “that’s so good.” So he says, “motives are attached to specific situations or actions where your character is based on your values.” So, make sure that, if you have good characterand I’m assuming everybody that listens to us does⁠—the motives behind your interest in others are for the right reason.

I love that. If you’re genuinely interested in others, then it’s about them. It’s not about me. John also says, “Be careful⁠—are you motivating or manipulating?” The difference is: motivating is doing it for the team, while manipulating is doing it for you. That’s always struck me. Another one of his teachings, which most people would skim over because it seems so simple, is that every follower is asking three questions of you. Do you care about me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? If I’m genuinely interested in you, I’m looking for ways to help you, to care for you, and to build trust with you. Yeah. All of the sudden, we’ve got a connection, and we’re going places together. So that one was a big one for me as well. 

Question number three, which struck me and has some Level-3-type thinking, is “am I adding value to my team?” John called this the teamwork question. 

You’ve heard John talk about coach John Wooden. I have a couple of sports analogies for you. Coach Wooden would ask this question of himself every single day. He asked, “how can I make my team better?” Every day he asked that question. It was “how can I make them better so that they can produce, so that they can win?” Another question I thought was interesting is “what’s best for the rest?” So what’s best for the rest of the team, the rest of the department, the rest of whatever? As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be thinking about that. I read a little paragraph in John’s book about Vince Lombardi, he took over the Green Bay Packers after they had suffered eleven straight losing seasons, and he turned them around in one season just by taking the time to understand where the team members fit best. This was before my time, maybe not yours, but there were three key playersand I know Bart Starr was one of themthat were sitting on the bench through eleven straight seasons. When Vince Lombardi took over, he asked them, “what’s the best position for you that benefits the rest of the team?” Eventually, those three key players earned it on the practice field and ended up helping turn that team around. And they were already there! The coach prior to that just hadn’t taken time to really think about what’s best for the rest of the team in regards to their skillset. 

Right. I love this question about adding value to the team. There was a little throwaway line in Level 3, the production level, that’s “are you producing results together with your team?” A question John posed: “is the team better because of your presence?” In my workshops, I ask people if their team is better because of them. “Are you adding value to the team?” John asked another question: “Are you leveraging your strengths to get production results from the team? What have you done that you could leverage with the team?” I just love the idea of engaging each person. Like you said with Bart Starrwhat’s each person’s unique intelligence? What do they do better than others? Am I leveraging that to add value to the team? 

So, question number four, is “am I staying in my strengths zone?” This is an effectiveness question.

A great question. Just coming off of your comment about John and some of his thoughts around this. I think that this is the most important question that you can ask yourself, as a leader and as an individual, to help you reach your ultimate potential. We can spend a lot of effort and energy working on some opportunities for growth, but we won’t reach our potential if we’re not working on our strengths. Now, of course there are also some opportunities for growth that need to happen because if not, it’s going to become a fatal flaw to the organization you’re working for and to your own journey. So I don’t want to tell you to say “Hey, I’m good at this, so this is all I’m doing.” There’s a fine line and a balance there. But I do think this is a really important question for us to be asking ourselves because we need to make sure that we’re reaching our potential. Understand that it is a process. It’s going to take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. And don’t mistake activity as progress. John says that staying in your strength zone will give you two things: an advantage and more opportunities. So, think about where you need an advantage. Where do you need another opportunity? That might be because you’re not playing in your strength zone. 

Well, I got really convicted about this one because I think I was always taught from my youth that you should always work on your weaknesses. Whatever you’re bad at⁠—keep working on that. John teaches it differently. He says that you can only grow two points on a scale of 1 to 10. If you’re a 3 at something, you’re only going to make it to a 5. But if you’re a 7, you can make it to a 9. So why wouldn’t you work on what you’re already good at? I realized that my weakness might be someone on my team’s strength, which got me to think, “Could I delegate this?” John has some great teachings on delegation, and we’ve done a podcast on delegation. I once had a job that required me to produce a spreadsheet every week, and it got more and more complicated. Let me just be clear to all listeners worldwide: I hate spreadsheets. I get them. I know how they work, but I don’t want to do them. But it was my job to do the spreadsheets. I hated, hated it, hated it. I made a comment in a team meeting once about how this was really a weakness for me, but I just had to get better at it. I said “I’m going to take a class on spreadsheets. I’m going to learn these macros.” And this guy on my team says, “I love spreadsheets. I come alive in a spreadsheet.”I thought, if I hate spreadsheets, everybody must hate spreadsheets, while not knowing that spreadsheets are his strength zone. So, I turned that duty over to him. And all of a sudden I got turned in to me these amazing spreadsheets. And he was coming alive! I also felt reborn because I didn’t have to do spreadsheets, and it was fantastic. It was awesome. Find your strength zone, and realize the team has their strength zones too. If you are trying to do things that aren’t your strength, there’s probably somebody on your team that has that strength. Someone who likes spreadsheets.

Question number five: “Am I taking care of today?” He calls this a success question.

As leaders, we have to have the longest lens in the room. We have to know where we’re going, and sometimes we get focused on that and we keep thinking off in the distance when, in reality, what we need to make sure of is that things get accomplished today. This is another Level 3 skill set. What is getting accomplished today? Don’t get so caught up in thinking longer and further. While that’s important, you have to make sure to remember that today matters. What are you doing to accomplish what needs to get accomplished today, in and throughout your team? A lot of people, as leaders, think of themselves as an individual contributor. While that is true, you should also think in terms of your team. You need to be, be very aware of that, and you need to understand that action happens today. Today Matters by John Maxwell was life-changing for me. He asked a question in there: “Today, are you preparing or are you repairing for what’s coming?” Are you doing what needs to be done today or are you repairing because you’re doing things you should have done yesterday? Then you’re off for what’s going to happen tomorrow. It really got me to look at my own life, my own flow of work, my own relationship with my team. Am I preparing by doing the things I need to do today? This goes into some deep conversations about your priorities, your focus, the question “are you majoring on majors?” rather than majoring on minors, etc. You can have lots of discussion there, but, it’s life-changing when you just think, “how do I handle today?” Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow’s not promised. All I have today. What am I doing with it? 

So, we just challenged you with some questions that we feel you need to be asking yourself. There’s two things that I want you to do with this. I want you to schedule some white space time and take these questions that we asked, write them down, and try to get some self-awareness on where you’re at. I sometimes I tell people the longer we’re in leadership, the more experience we have, the more complacent we get and unaware of ourselves. This is a good way to become more aware. The second thing is, while we could have good intentions with answering these questions, maybe taking some action items from them, you can’t do it unless somebody is walking that road with you. So, find somebody that’s going to encourage you to grow, continue to ask you questions about what you’re learning, and continue to challenge you. Maybe they share with you what they’re learning. Because then they’re going to hold you accountable. 

Fantastic. Well, thank you. As always, we’re grateful for you listening. If you want more information about public workshops, Chris gave you that at johnmaxwellcompany.com/workshops. And, of course, if you want to contact us here and learn more about our 5 Levels, go to johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast and leave us a question. We always love hearing from you. That’s it for today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

Leave us your questions below! Also, if you have suggestions for future podcast topics or would like to talk with Chris Goede about helping your company submit your feedback!

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