Questions All Good Leaders Should Ask Pt. 1

Generally speaking, asking rather than telling makes for a better leader and a better experience when trying to mentor team members. Asking is interactive and exploratory.

What does your success look like? This is a great question—while it is just another version of “where do you see yourself in five years” or asking what someone’s goals are, it might feel a little less cliché. And it can be used either to refer to broader long term goals or specific situation the team is currently facing.

Really it can be used in so many situations. Even if a team member is having what constitutes a small problem asking them, “what does success look like to you?” in that scenario can help them visualize the finish line and what it’ll take to get there.

Albeit is similar, “what outcome do you want?” is another good question that leaders ask. This question is good for when there is more than one successful outcome or solution. While the previous question suggests a single answer and action plan, this question suggests there maybe more than one.

If your team member is having a particularly hard time with a situation this might be the best question to ask to help them see it from multiple perspectives.

Again, while similar, the shades of difference allow for a different discussion when we ask a team member: what do you want to change in five years? It focuses on a long term goal but also suggests that along the way that goal will require change or growth. This is about creative thinking and how the team member wants to grow along with the field they find themselves in.

A great follow up to any of the previous questions is: what obstacles are you facing? This allows the team member a chance to ask you the leader for some insight on overcoming those obstacles. Be aware some team members might not want to share what troubles they are having or might not have really thought them through. Asking outright might be difficult but it allows the leader to explore those challenges with the team member.

Most of us know our weakness but are not comfortable recognizing them for ourselves or speaking about them with others.

It Only Takes One Inspiring Trait to be a Leader

The mysteries of inspiration may never be fully unraveled but one quality most leaders aspire to have among their team members or staff is to be an inspiration. We may not all have it in us to be the students of The Dead Poet Society’s “Oh Captain My Captain” but as science has proven great leaders are made, not born. So, what is it you can do to inspire your team?

Having one admirable or inspiring trait can be all it takes to be a go-to guy for your team. There are many traits that can work and these might all fall under a few umbrella categories. Any trait you can foster as “your thing” that will help with one of the following will go a long way in making you an inspiring leader. No leader has it all and figuring out your leadership “super power” will help you push that to the forefront of your style.

If you trait helps others develop their inner resources that’s a great one. One good thing all leaders do is help others be their best.

Connecting with others; if what you do is speak to people, empathize, sympathize, see things from their perspective you can be the person who helps the group understand itself as a set of individuals who are also more than the some their parts.

Maybe what you do well is “set the tone;” however you do that. No one is asking this kind of leader to be an actor; this kind of leader reads the room and knows the kind of pep talk the majority of the team needs.

Finally, many leaders are good at, simply said, leading. You are great at delegating, mitigating, negotiating. Every organization needs someone who is simply good at logistics and planning.

While it is certainly admirable and desirable to be more than one of these traits no persons journey as a leader need begin with a fool toolbox.

Leading Your Team Through Hard Times

As a leader it is going to happen—your team is going to hit a rough patch. Whether that is caused be internal or external forces there are some things you can and should do as a leader to keep the team empowered and confident.

First off, communication is key. Your instinct might be to sugar coat things but honesty (as usual) is the best route. The confidence and positivity needs to come from the leaders presentation of the information. Make sure to cover what happened or is happening and how it is affect the company specifically or is expected to. What decisions are being made because of the situation. And most importantly what the current plan is going forward.

Next in any situation, if it is causing the goals of the team to be compromised, that means there is a lesson to be learned. Taking some time to figure out how the team wasn’t prepared or what they could do in the future to mitigate a similar issue has the dual benefit of strengthen the team and making them feel like they are in control as they begin to work out problems and solve them.

Reshare your vision for the future. Remind your team why you are all there. Take the time to celebrate large wings but maybe more important take time out to celebrate small wins. The positivity you can generate the better—mostly people want to feel good, give them a reason to.

Maybe most importantly, keep asking your team for honest feedback on how they think things are going. Again, this will give team members control and confidence that they can exert influence of the situation.

Working From Home Part 2: Distractions, Expectations and Boundaries

The last article ended on concerns about your kids using up all the WiFi—unless you have unusually self-sufficient kids or older children who understand that you are at work even though you are at home keeping them occupied could be an issue.

Believe it or not most kids like having a schedule and find comfort in that familiarity—so make a schedule and stick to it. Books, puzzles and other quiet games are good. Also, some screen time is OK. Some television is fine. If you let your kids play video games those are OK as well.

If you have the right mix of ages among your children asking the older ones to help.

Now that you’ve got your family and technology sorted, what next?

Make sure you and your boss are on the same page about what the expectations are for your new work from home position. Do you need to be 100% available during business hours or can you work asynchronously to a degree? Will you be handling all the same work or has your position changed slightly since you are moving home?

If this transition is absolutely new to everyone (you, the company, your boss) keeping an open dialog and noting what is going well and not so well will be key.

You’ll also have to consider yourself—can you jump out of bed, sit down and get to it cup of coffee in hand? Are you easily distractible?

Many work from home guru’s have long made the suggestion that people maintain their typical morning routine. This includes the clothes you wear. For some, this will be necessary to switch their brain over to “work mode.”  This will take some trial and error.

Likewise, you need to establish clear boundaries with you job. Working from should not mean you are available day and night, weekdays and weekends. If you have web phone setting it to DND or unplugging it after work hours as well as shutting down your work computer complete is a signal to both your job and your brain that the work-day is done.

Working from Home Part 1: Technology

Working from home for the first time can be a challenge but here are some tips to get you going.

First, get your technology sorted. This means hardware and software. Your IT department may or may not have guides written to get you started. If you are working with any kind of sensitive information, especially the kind a company can be legally liable for, you’ll want to know for certain that information stays secure. If you aren’t provided with any specific IT instructions, guidelines or help make sure to inquire on your own.

Make sure you’ve got your home WiFi and work computer talking to each other and getting along before the first day of work. Make sure all your software functions as it should and that you can log into whatever you need to just as you do at work.

If you are going be relying heavily on video conferencing, make sure your internet connection has enough bandwidth to handle the calls. You’ll want to make some test calls, maybe with a peer from work, to check this.

If your connection is too slow, don’t immediately upgrade your service. There are several things to look into to open up some bandwidth on your current connection. If you don’t absolutely require video, making an audio only conference call takes far less bandwidth. Other users, like kids, may be using a ton of bandwidth if many of them are accessing the internet from different devices at once. You may need to set ground rules for when children can use the WiFi.tech

Leadership as a Process

Leadership is a process. A complex one. It is a relationship built between leader and follower. This group also has the element of a goal everyone desires.

There are five moving parts that interact to create the entity of relationship of exchanges—the leader, the followers, the situation, the process itself and the results. On a timeline each of these parts influences the others and the outcomes of these interactions set precedents for the future.

Leaders are typically viewed as one who orchestrates or guides. The set the tone for the group in the hopes of moving forward with a goal in mind. Followers are not to be viewed as passive, however. In fact, many now view the followers as the most critical aspect of the relationship. It is the follower who sees the situation and defines the needs of the group to accomplish the goal.

The personality of the follower is what determines what kind of leadership style will be most effective. Leadership is not one philosophy the leader foists onto any group of followers.

The situation surrounds the followers and the leader and helps define what the followers need from the leader. Will the groups current skill set be able to solve the problem of the situation or do they need new guidance from the leader? Are the goals of the group clear? What are the emotions of the group concerning the problem to solve or the goals? Excited? Frustrated? Defeated?

Finally, there is the process itself which is distinct from the leader (the orchestrator). This process is never finished and evolves even as the situation, the goals, the followers and even the orchestrator change or move on.

In a sense the leader must be the most malleable and open to adaptation and change. The situation is defined, the leader’s team is defined, the goal is defined, the process of leadership is an always moving target. The leader must see this picture and adapt to be successful.