7 Critical Leadership Questions

Everyone has areas they just can't see. But it's especially a credibility-killer when others perceive things about leaders they themselves don't know.

DO you want to propel your leadership ability to a higher level? In one of his last articles before passing away in 2005, management guru Peter Drucker wrote that leaders spent too much of their time trying to find the right answers when they should instead be focusing on formulating the right questions.
Clearly, real solutions have to be customized to your specific situation. That said, I offer you seven critical questions that, thoughtfully employed, can boost your leadership effectiveness.

Do I plan for simultaneously elevating productivity, morale, and safety/health?

1. Do I strengthen and recharge myself first? Leaders of any style have to maintain an energy level high enough to magnetize others, sustain their focus, rebound, and respond to the unexpected. If you are too tired or dispirited to motivate yourself, how well can you get others going?
Be sure to make time daily to reinvigorate yourself, whether through exercise, reflection and self-reminders, right diet, stress control techniques, or anything else you know works for you.

2. Am I trustworthy? Do I do what I say I'm going to do? Do I consider others' outlook and concerns along with, not secondary to, my mission? Am I reliable and consistent over time? Do I get back to others on surfaced concerns or requests in a timely manner? Do I show respect even when I don't accept others' suggestions? If I were one of my clients, would I trust me?

3. Where are my blind spots? Everyone has areas they just can't see. But it's especially a credibility-killer when others perceive things about leaders they themselves don't know. You might consider: What are others thinking of me? Do I solicit feedback regularly from people I know will be honest? Do I hold myself to high standards of self-honesty, focusing where I might be getting in my own way? Even when experiencing positive results, too many would-be leaders forget this is usually based on two contributors:  because of what they do as well as in spite of their actions. In other words, what might I be doing (or ignoring) that forestalls an even higher level of performance?

4. Do I think strategically and critically? Do I see the potential positives and negatives in all planned or unexpected changes? Do I work toward small actions and interventions growing into significant results? Do I see connections to Safety performance in my organization with what is said, what is ignored, what is really reinforced? Do I plan for simultaneously elevating productivity, morale, and safety/health?
Anil Mather, president and CEO of Alaska Tanker Corporation (oil transport vessels), is an unwavering Safety proponent. He explains, "Leadership is a mental state. The challenge is how to produce results beyond the drift." Anil contends it's possible to change those who initially don't fully value Safety: "A commitment to Safety can be learned by acting safely."

5. Am I courageous and dedicated to change? Do I focus on how to overcome obstacles rather than default toward finding all the reasons proposed actions couldn't possibly work?
Best leaders know you can't expect others to change without doing so yourself. Steve Streimer, vice-president of Streimer Sheet Metal Works and a strong executive advocate for Safety, explains, "Whatever you want to lead in, you have to do it wholeheartedly. It changes your thinking."

6. Do I make positive things happen? Rather than settling for quotable phrases or good intentions, best leaders work tirelessly at attaining positive results. One of their knacks is identifying and overcoming those organizational snags that might otherwise disable Safety results--people not released for training, critical equipment not available at the right time, contractual obstacles that torpedo needed interventions, etc.
Loren Mayer, plant manager of PGE's Boardman generation plant, explains, "Safety leadership is about doing something, making changes before someone gets hurt to force you to make the change."

7. Do I have high expectations? A force for hope? Do I focus on what I can improve, not rest on past successes? Do I communicate this to everyone?
Dan Johnson, vice-president of Operations, Skanska USA (a large construction company), came from the floor and has high expectations of safe work production. He told me, "I believe there's always something else out there to be discovered." And I believed him.

The right questions can point you to breakthrough solutions. Formulate and respond to the right questions to propel your making small changes for greatly enhancing leadership skills and organizational Safety performance.

This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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