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4 questions every leader should be able to answer

6 min read


There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of that moment when you’re first awarded an important leadership role.

Having “finally arrived” you imagine yourself as the rock star taking center stage at a roaring stadium of adoring fans. You can almost hear the ear shattering cheers of the crowd as they clamor to get closer, iPhones in hand, ready for the chance to take a cherished selfie and bask in your celebrity. The congratulatory comments and notes follow soon after, as do the handshakes, hugs and back slaps of colleagues, some of who may be actually be truly happy for your success.

But, after repeatedly playing this movie in your head, (in which your performance in the leading role is, of course, Oscar-worthy) at some point you come face to face with the enormity of your responsibility to others. Grand titles and big salary aside, the burning issue now is how you’ll show up as a leader and what legacy you’ll leave behind.

The answers to those questions will largely depend on your knowledge of who you really are. When the movie in your head winds to a close, you have to become someone other than that fantasy Mick Jagger you’ve been channeling. You have to be the leader who makes a difference for the business and for the people in it who make it hum. Becoming that authentic leader requires being able to answer four important, soul-searching questions:

1. Who am I?

This is more than a “name, rank and serial number” kind of question. Knowing who you are means you deeply understand why you’re here and the unique contributions you intend to make — not just to the organization, but also to the larger world. It means having a profound sense of purpose in your life and the capacity to articulate it well, so that you engage and inspire others. You should be able to fill in the blank in the sentence “My purpose in life is to ___________. “

If you can’t, it’s time to start working towards that answer, because your success as a leader depends upon it. Authentic leaders are able to visualize the sight line between their own purpose and the mission of the organization to such a profound degree that their work is more than a job — it’s an extension of who they are.

2. What are my passions?

This is not a question that seeks to understand if you’re passionate about food, wine, football or skydiving, nor if you’re passionate about that attractive new member of your tennis club. The understanding of passion that’s essential for you to lead well requires deep insight into the passions that you express as a result of the purpose that drives you.

After years of working with leaders around the globe, significant research has revealed 10 core passions that operate in everyone. They are codified as the following passion archetypes: Builder, Transformer, Teacher, Connector, Healer, Altruist, Conceiver, Creator, Processor and Discoverer. Knowing that you are a passionate Builder, for example, will drive you to achieve huge goals and dream big dreams. But, if you are managing someone with a Processor passion, you’ll need to slow down and lay out a detailed plan if you want to gain their support and benefit from their expertise. Understanding your own passions and how they interplay with those of others empowers you to leverage both the skills and the passions of the people on your team to get the best results.

3. How am I impacting others?

As a leader, a critical responsibility is to design and maintain the culture of the organization. If your people debate and discuss issues openly and then work together to arrive at the best path forward, it’s because you’ve created a culture where information-hoarding is frowned upon and where people are encouraged to take risk and explore new ideas.

Conversely, if your culture is one that pushes against reality and demands, rather than inspires results, you’re likely to have few people around you who commit to your vision or tell you when the data proves that it’s flawed.

Consider the recent leadership shakeup at tech and power giant Toshiba as a case in point. A series of leaders, including CEO Hisao Tanaka, resigned on the heels of a $1.2 billion accounting scandal. Tanaka pushed employees to deliver on “challenge or stretch” targets to such an extent that profits were likely padded to make it appear that the goals had been attained. Tanaka and his predecessor, former Vice Chairman Norio Sasaki (who resigned along with the others), were known to operate with a “no excuses” mentality, which created a culture where few were willing to disappoint them, and even fewer likely to tell them the truth. This culture, and the leadership that spawned it, resulted in an over 20% drop in Toshiba’s stock price.

4. Where are my edges?

Knowing the boundaries of your value system and clearly understanding what you’re not willing to do to win favor or profit provides you with an internal GPS to guide your behaviors. In the safety of our own thoughts, it’s easy to define ourselves as we’d like others to see us, but the work environment is where all those perceptions get tested. It’s where you are challenged to demonstrate the courage of your convictions as a leader and where you learn to embrace both your strengths and your weaknesses.

Knowing your edges will prompt you to ask important questions of the business and the decisions that are made by you and other leaders in it. Beyond the question “Is what we’re planning to do legal?” a strong value system will cause you to ask, “Is this the right thing to do for our business and the promise of our brand?”

Perhaps these are questions that the ousted leaders at Toshiba might now have time to ponder.

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president at Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well, passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about your own passion archetypes here. When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.

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