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Three Big Questions for Leaders

There are three basic questions we need to ask ourselves when we want to lead people:

  • Where do we want to lead? (Goals and Objectives)
  • How are we going to get there? (Process and Strategies)
  • How can we tell when we arrived? (Monitoring and Celebrating)

Of course, each of the three questions only begins key conversations. There is a lot of work to fleshing them out and planning for success. For our purposes here, we are just going examine these Big Three.

People often think they know where they want to go—however help them dig a little deeper and they find there is a “disconnect” between where they want to go and what they are doing to get there.  

Years ago, while doing some consulting work for a national organization, I met with some of their board members.  They spoke about their priorities for the coming year (Where they wanted to lead).  Chief among their goals was increasing their national profile through public relations.  During the course of the conversation I posed two questions both related to the “How”:

  • Who is responsible for this initiative?
  • How much is budgeted to support it?

The answer to the first question was “no one” and the answer to the second question was, “There is no budget line for this.” In this example they knew where they wanted to go (increased national profile), they just had not taken the necessary steps of mindful planning to make it a reality (in this case the who and the how).  It is easy to identify a problem and say what you want (and more people than you may realize stop at that point). It is a much more mindful process and effective process, to plan out the steps of how to get there.

Here is an example from one of the schools with which we worked. The principal was concerned about getting data that would guide instruction in the classroom. Her plan was to ask the district for funds to purchase software.  She had worked on a proposal.  Again, two questions were posed:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Does this plan accomplish it?

During the course of the discussion the principal realized what she wanted to accomplish was quick access to data, that she was not getting from the district (although the district was collecting the information she wanted).  During the course of the conversation, she also realized that she would have to run the data through the district anyway, so this plan wouldn’t get her what she wanted (quick access).  What she did realize is that she needed a plan for getting quicker access to data from the district and that is what we worked on.

The third question, “How can we tell when we have done it?” is often forgotten. We get so excited and involved with the plan and the work, we forget to check and see if we are on course and accomplishing what we set out to do.   Just as important, if we don’t monitor and check we miss opportunities to celebrate the group’s accomplishments. We miss the opportunities to recognize people’s hard work and individual contributions. All of these are great ways to thank people, reinforce behaviors and build a culture of success.

A good practice is to create a timeline with benchmarks and during your regular meeting make checking on progress toward benchmarks a regular part of the agenda.  This way you can incorporate monitoring and celebrating in one step.

A final note, benchmarks need to be realistic and obtainable (otherwise people can get discouraged and give up).  They also need to be flexible.  Even the best of planners can’t account for developments down the line. A strict, unbending adherence to benchmarks can be debilitating.

So, as you lead remember the Big Three:

  • Where do we want to lead? (Goals and Objectives)
  • How are we going to get there? (Process and Strategies)
  • How can we tell when we arrived? (Monitoring and Celebrating)

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