The Most Valuable Leadership Question

While walking the dog on a recent Sunday afternoon, my mind relaxed, just as I had hoped.  My senses were on high receive as leaves gently released from soaring trees, a slight cool wind whispering through my hoodie.  I was in the moment, and that’s when it came to me.

I’d been thinking about the company I was chosen to lead late last year, and how performance had experienced a double-digit turnaround since then.  Top line revenue, expense reduction, and EBIDTA had all reversed negative trends.  Sure, we had planned our work and worked our plan.  The newly assembled leadership team held the organization accountable to fulfilling our purpose and exhibiting core behaviors – in the process becoming more disciplined.  Still, I searched for a unique itch that begged to be scratched.

As we know, there’s nothing worse than an unqualified, entitled or lazy leader.  I’ve worked hard my entire career to ensure those words could never be said about me.  To protect against such a reputation, servant leadership has always been a dogged pursuit.  And that’s where The Most Valuable Leadership Question has its roots.

Most senior leaders, during one-on-ones, take the easy way out when “assisting” their direct reports – usually VPs or GMs – by asking, “How can I help you?”  Honestly, I still make this mistake occasionally.  Most often, though, I ask a very different question, but it cannot be asked if something critically important doesn’t occur first.

Senior leaders don’t do “the work.”  To be clear, we do absolutely NONE of the work.  We’re supposed to be proficient at getting things done through others.  However, this does not release us from a major responsibility.  With this in mind, The Most Value Leadership Question is:

“How has what I’ve done, the last 30-60-90 days, benefitted you, your team and the organization?”

See the difference?  If I have not been proactive in helping my VPs win – working diligently to help ensure their success – then how lazy is it for me to ask, “So, big guy, what can I do to help?”  By now the converse should be obvious.  Additionally, the senior leader has a responsibility to actively listen to the feedback, and schedule a deadline for follow up on agreed upon expectations.

Most mornings on the drive to work, I say to myself, “Get off your ass, Sean, and make sure you’re engaged … providing time, money, resources, coaching and obstacle removal to aid the cause of every department head.”  After all, I’m the one ultimately responsible for results, and like sports, it’s a team effort.  Contributing to the effort is a no-brainer.  Asking “How can I help” is an indictment of my leadership ability. 

NOTE:  If you’d like to learn more about “Culpable: Accountable Execution,” please refer to Chapter 10 in Clean Slate, available now on Amazon.

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