Leadership isn’t rocket science. In fact, many leadership principles are actually quite simple. Often, the difference between a great leader and a mediocre leader is that great leaders act on what they know, while mediocre leaders overcomplicate, overthink, and overanalyze to the point where they fail to apply their knowledge.
In my own leadership, I’ve learned to ask two simple questions every day and act on them:
- How can I improve myself?
- How can I improve everything around me?
Let’s go more in-depth into each question.
How can I improve myself to be a better leader?
The first question involves honest, fearless introspection. We need to look at our strengths, our weaknesses, and the gaps between where we are and where we want to be. These areas aren’t always easy to see!
To address these blind spots, we need to make sure we have good people around us who are willing to give honest feedback. Surrounding yourself with these kinds of people is essential to being a better leader.
As you discover the answers, make adjustments. The changes you make can be simple, small, and easy. Again, resist the urge to overcomplicate. For example, I’ve recently worked on improving my communication by using less mitigating phrases like “sort of,” made a point of arriving a little earlier to meetings, and asked more clarifying questions when I’ve not been 100% clear on what someone is saying. Because I ask this question and find something to improve daily, these little changes add up quickly.
How can I be a better leader by improving everything around me?
By “everything,” I mean things like people, your community, your environment, and processes.
Noticing all these areas requires you to maintain a high level of awareness and attention to detail. Look for areas where people are struggling and find ways to help. Recognize what’s going well and find ways to leverage those areas. Hold onto your vision and find ways to turn it into reality.
When you ask this question, it’s essential to consider what is in the best interest of everything around you. Too often, I see leaders ask this question based on their own ego or need to make things go their way. It’s important for you to think about what other people, the organization, or the community needs and respond accordingly. Again, you can always ask for their feedback when you’re unsure.
To give a few examples, I’ve recently tried to improve everything around me making suggestions to senior leaders in my organization about changes that could benefit our team, designing and facilitating a meeting in which our team discussed challenges we faced with each other, and initiating training on topics our clients have been struggling with.
Both questions are essential
Often, people focus on one question or the other, but seldom both. I notice that when people focus primarily on the first question, they lose sight of the bigger picture and fail to create external change. They get so wrapped up in themselves that they lose touch with everything around them. When they focus primarily on the second question, they come across as self-righteous and tend to view everything and everyone else as the problem. They don’t see the ways that they are also part of the problem, and lose the humility that builds trust.
Again, you don’t need to dig deep every time. Start with the little things, and over time you’ll quickly find the answers and be able to act on them.