Mid-year self-reflection for strong leadership

Are you willing to do a little self-reflection? Reflect on these 9 questions and see what the questions reveal about yourself. What changes are you willing to do between now and the end of 2021 to make you a better leader?

Not sure where to start? Analyzing our individual habits and behaviors is a good way to open the door for some serious reflection. This is something I am comfortable in guiding CEOs into the right self-reflection for their personal and professional needs.

“Do you have any habits that hold you back from being the leader you’d like to be?”

High-performing leaders have to push themselves to look at inward on a regular basis. From “stop-doing” lists and fire fighting to goal-setting and talent planning, these nine question are a good place to dig in when leadership is feeling stuck or focus feels misplaced.

9 powerful questions coaches ask CEOs

Asking a tough question can be — tough. But not for Vistage Chairs Ken Proctor and Wally Schmader. Over their combined 12 years of coaching Vistage high-performing CEOs, they have honed the craft of asking great business coaching questions. They’ve come to know what makes executive leaders tick, and with insightful questions they reach the core of a CEO’s values, discover their blind spots, and design strategies to transcend personal and business challenges.

In this post, Ken and Wally share questions they ask CEOs who want the opportunity to join a Vistage peer advisory group. For busy CEOs who are under constant pressure, the 1-1 business coaching time spent with Ken or Wally becomes a meaningful moment of reflection. These questions are the beginning of a CEO’s journey toward stronger decision-making and more effective leadership development.

1. “Are you running your company or leading it?”

2. “Are you doing more fire-fighting or fire prevention in your business?”

6. “Think about the last direct report who left the company. What percent of that employee’s departure are you willing to own?”

9. “It’s the last day of the year. What would have made this year truly meaningful for you — personally and professionally?”

There are several helpful discussions we can have around just one of these questions. Pick one, and let’s talk.

We’re back in person

My Vistage business owner group is back in person after 15 months. Placemats, agenda, big screen, Vistage banners, easel pad and stand and hand sanitizer for everyone creates a full, caring, trusting and challenging all day executive session.

It’s the right move now to get back together and create our new normal. We all have a lot to re-learn about ourselves and in developing deeper relationships with each other and out clients and customers. Thank you Zoom for bridging our past to our future.

Lunch and a happy hour after our meeting made this one of the most meaningful meetings in my 15 years of chairing. Throughout the day, watching members reconnect and embracing our new members put a smile on my face. I am so grateful and honored to have these Austinites as CE members and part of my extended family. We are making a difference in becoming better leaders, making better decisions for our employees and our clients, customers and community.

Make Time to Reflect on Leadership Qualities for Small Business Results

Just over 5 years ago, Dr. Sunnie Giles shared her thoughts on leadership competencies via her HBR article, The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World. Since most businesses are moving from defense to offense, I thought her article’s content was worth revisiting as we reopen our offices, return to water coolers and re-engage our customers and clients in person.

As a SMB owner, pay close attention to her 5 themes and scorecard your company. Consider doing a 360, and then have your leadership team do as well. 

Coming out of the dark side of Covid-19 and being remote for 15 months, it’s time to assess how aligned is your team today as we look around the corner and be the best we can be.

The qualities of an effective leader

What makes an effective leader? The study led by Ms. Giles grouped the responses of 196 global leaders into categories with these 5 characteristics rising to the top. 

  • Ethics and safety
  • Self organizing
  • Efficient learning
  • Nurtures growth
  • Connection and belonging

“Taken together, these attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.”

Giles, HBR.org

What are the qualities you and your leadership team possess that will foster a trusting environment where all employees feel safe?  

As Giles highlights, your personal ethics are your north star, and it’s important to revisit these regularly. My members and I find these topics rise up in our discussions at least once a year. 

We explore questions like, 

  • How should I hold my employees more accountable?
  • How can I improve effective and time sensitive inter-department communication?

Your role as a leader is to ensure there is no feeling of fear. The team can lose their productivity and focus if they are worried about letting people down, or worse.

Giles calls it “Clearing the air”, others may see it as part of their “open door” culture. It’s important to outwardly and explicitly communicate to all team members how your culture addresses problems and learns from mistakes. Then facilitate and invite the openness that will create a sense of security. 

CEOs and the challenge of relinquishing power

It’s probably the most common personal challenge I have seen among business owners in my 15 years as a Vistage Chair and CEO coach. Delegating. Letting go. Sharing the responsibilities. Trusting the leadership team. All of it is part of the internal power struggle.

Good news is there is a scientific explanation for why leaders fear letting go of control. It is linked to the fight or flight response we all have built into our brains. Giles suggests there are ways to retrain this response to be more relaxed to help leaders empower others, and embrace delegating responsibilities. 

“To overcome the fear of relinquishing power, start by increasing awareness of physical tension that arises when you feel your position is being challenged.”

Giles, HBR.org

Leaders get stymied in their ability to grow, and then they wonder why their leadership team isn’t doing more. It tends to link back to some level of not being able to let go of control.

In our meetings, we explore these feelings and the specific situations where they arise, and it normally can be resolved through openness and communicating with your leadership team. As Giles suggests, putting the biggest fear out in the open – of you not having control – empowers your leadership team to know exactly how to act to earn your trust and demonstrate their competencies. 

It’s very difficult to grow year-over-year if you are focused on “in” the business vs. “on” the business. Is most of your time in the weeds or looking around the corner out there 6, 12 or 18 months?

Creating connections, nurturing growth

In my experience, the ability to connect with people is what makes a great sales person, and can lead to what makes a great leader as well. Think about it — How do people make you feel valued?

It’s about remembering birthdays or family members’ names, and asking about a person’s special interest, demonstrates genuine interest in the human, not just their work. When we as humans feel valued, we are going to open up and respond with equal interest.  

“From a neuroscience perspective, creating connection is a leader’s second most important job.”

Giles, HBR.org

It is not surprising then, that these are the characteristics reflected in the chart above. Combining the ability to connect with a nurturing approach of taking an interest in each employee’s personal growth will naturally develop loyalty and a sense of belonging.

In our monthly meetings we sometimes take a deeper dive in the value of weekly and, or monthly 1-to-1s with our key direct reports. We focus on asking, “Are we consistent with what’s important, what’s not? Are we aligning their work product with company goals?”

Fostering a culture of learning and openness

My take away from this section is very simple. Are you truly committed to growth, support taking risks, and support sharing ideas? Our psyche makes this difficult, but plenty of leaders have proven it is possible. AND, more importantly, that it is worth it. 

“Researchers have found that reduced blood flow to our brains under threat reduces peripheral vision, ostensibly so we can deal with the immediate danger.”

Giles, HBR.org

If the team is operating under stress, they may miss the next big idea. 

Encourage testing says Giles. Build in small steps for mistakes through A/B testing, supporting experimentation and controlling the impact at the same time. 

Hopefully you have had time to do some personal reflection in the past 15 months. Perhaps you have even identified a personal growth area for yourself. These findings from 5 years ago are still relevant today. It’s an opportunity to get back to the core of what you can do as a leader, and what your leadership team can achieve together. 

I wish you well and continued successes. And, if you find yourself in need of an outside perspective, please reach out.